For the Newmarks, loving New York started long time ago
New York — Nat and Rae Newmark have been married 45 years. Inside their Greenwich Village apartment hang photo enlargements of the couple as they set sail from the Port of New York for a Bermuda honeymoon. A dapper Mr. Newmark leans against the railing in one shot, and a smiling Mrs. Newmark looks every bit a fashion plate in another.
As night falls in New York, the skyline view from the Newmarks' Manhattan home becomes a panorama of holiday colors. ''We've traveled all over, and I don't think there is any place like New York,'' says Mrs. Newmark. ''The museums , the theater, dance . . .''
''And the girls,'' adds Mr. Newmark, a twinkle in his eye.
About 1.3 million people age 60 and older live in New York City. Many, like the Newmarks, have lived here most or all of their lives. As some of these people tell tales of yesteryear, they offer vivid chronicles of growth, grace, tragedy, and change in New York, America's largest city. Their stories reveal the character of New York and mirror some of the diverse directions the city has traveled during the volatile 20th century.
Listen, for instance, to Betty Schrick, a white-haired grandmother in Brooklyn. She talks about one of the biggest changes older New Yorkers frequently mention: crime and safety.
''When I was younger, there was no such thing as fear here,'' she says. ''If no one was home when you stopped by, you would go in and make yourself some tea and leave a note. It is kind of hard for the people who are still here who now have to put (bars) on their windows.''
Indeed, crime has increased in this city, as it has elsewhere. The number of felonies reported to the police department has grown nearly 4 percent a year in the past decade. Though the city's overall crime rate is not the highest in the nation, New York is first on the list for street crimes such as muggings. Statistics since 1981, however, show a decrease in serious crime.
Some neighborhoods have changed markedly in the last 50 years. The Newmarks lived in the Bronx after they were married. Back then, the Grand Concourse was composed mainly of middle- and upper-middle-income Jewish families. Today it's mostly Hispanic and black.
By midmorning at the Morris Senior Center in the Bronx, Evelyn Curtis is chatting with friends as they watch ''The Price is Right'' on the black-and-white TV. She arrives each day about 7:30 a.m., when she comes in to help make breakfast for the 30 to 40 seniors who eat their morning meal here.
Miss Curtis, a spry black woman who as a teen-ager moved to New York from the South, lives in a neighborhood where deserted, burned-out buildings seem to outnumber the tidy homes and apartments. Empty lots are strewn with glass and garbage. The roof of the local McDonald's is lined with barbed wire.
''Now there are drug addicts and alcoholics,'' she tells a visitor. But she likes her neighborhood.
''I have a lot of relatives and friends close by,'' she explains. ''It's convenient to shopping, eating, and entertainment.'' Though one block may be desolate, the next is full of busy stores and people out Christmas shopping.
Some older New Yorkers have no money problems, but others are poor - 13.7 percent of those over age 65 in New York City live below the federal poverty line. Though that figure is down from 10 years ago, elderly people above the line are not particularly affluent. The median income of a renter household for citizens over 65 is about $6,000 a year. And the figure is lower for blacks. The majority of older New Yorkers are women - 60 percent of the population over 60 is female.
''My job pays me retirement, and I get social security, so I live comfortably ,'' says Miss Curtis, who worked for more than 30 years as a sewing-machine operator, making purses in a Manhattan factory. She spends most weekdays at the senior center. She likes to read mystery books and work crossword puzzles. And she is active in her Baptist church, where she sings in the choir.
''We all have ups and downs. Sometimes things get bad. That's where church comes in - it helps you manage the bad with the good.''
Family ties are also important to older Americans, but they are even more crucial in this enormous city, where anonymity seems to swallow an individual. Some of the elderly here feel isolated as their children move elsewhere and their neighborhoods change. But others, particularly among the working class here, have a large circle of relatives nearby.
Miss Curtis, for instance, remains close to her two brothers and their families. Her nieces call her up to talk about problems.
Mrs. Schrick left New York for San Francisco during World War II and returned 10 years ago to help her elderly mother, who had been mugged. Since both her son and her second husband had died, she remained in Brooklyn, near two of her sisters and their families.
And though many affluent New Yorkers left the city over the past 25 years, some neighborhoods have remained relatively stable. There have been many changes in Mrs. Schrick's Brooklyn neighborhood, but she says she grew up with about 70 percent of the people at the senior-citizen housing complex where she lives now.
Mrs. Schrick, who wears a green gingham apron for her part-time work at a Sunset Park senior citizen center, remembers the games she used to play as a child growing up in Brooklyn. She says children today grow up too fast.
''There was hopscotch, roller skating, jump rope,'' she says. ''We used to play spin-the-bottle under the street lamp. Of course our parents were there watching from the doorsteps. I don't think children have as much fun today.''
But Mrs. Schrick grew up pretty quickly herself. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she left her parochial school after the eighth grade and at age 15 began working for the telephone company. The money she earned as a telephone operator was always turned over to her mother to help support the family.
''If I got 25 cents out of my pay, I was happy,'' recalls Mrs. Schrick.
More than 50 years ago, before she married, Mrs. Newmark worked while she went to school at Hunter College in Manhattan. Her job at Gimbels paid $3 a day.
''I completely clothed myself with that,'' she recalls proudly. ''I knew where to shop. I went to S. Klein's in Union Square, which was a savior for people who didn't have a lot (of money).''
S. Klein, a bargain department store in its heyday, is now just an empty building. But many New Yorkers - winking slyly - say they remember buying clothes with the ''Madame K's label.''
The Newmarks met in a typical Bronx romance - a sweet tale in this age when some men and women meet at singles bars and fitness clubs. The Grand Concourse is a wide avenue, and young men would cruise slowly in cars while young women strolled along the sidewalks. One evening Mr. Newmark and several friends were stopped at a red light, when some women walked by with ice cream cones.
''I stuck out my tongue for a lick,'' recalls Mr. Newmark. Eventually he pulled over to the sidewalk, conversation ensued, and dates were made.
''One girl said I was too short,'' says Mr. Newmark, who is diminutive. ''But she said she had a friend who would be just right.'' And thus he met his future wife.
When their two children were young, the Newmarks moved to Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County. But they kept close contacts with New York, since Mr. Newmark worked there at his family's business. And when their children were grown, the Newmarks decided to return. They have lived in Greenwich Village for nearly 18 years now.
''You can be near the noise and hubbub or have a sedentary existence,'' says Mr. Newmark. ''We thought it would be best to get back in the city.''
Unlike Mrs. Schrick and Miss Curtis, who have a network of family and friends close by, the Newmarks don't feel a strong sense of neighborhood on perennially bustling Eighth Street.
But they do have access to a quintessentially New York institution - ''Jewish appetizing'' shops, knosheries filled with smoked carp and salmon, pickled herring, and bialies.
''You don't know Jewish appetizing?'' Mrs. Newmark asks this reporter. ''Come have brunch with us some morning.''