Citymeals on Wheels recipient Girlease in her NYC apartment. She has been getting meals on wheels for many years.

Making it to 100 was something Girlease had never considered. It kind of snuck up on her. “My mother lived long too,” she says. Her mother always used to say she wanted to live to be 100 years old. Even when she was younger, Girlease never understood that. Now, at 100, Girlease doesn’t think it’s all it’s cracked to be.

A lot of people tell her that she’s in good shape, considering her age, but Girlease disagrees. “Things I want to do, I can’t do,” she explains. It’s frustrating. “I want to get up, get dressed and get out without having to ask someone for help. I don’t want to bother anybody.” One of Girlease’s nieces lives only a few blocks away, so she comes by often to check on her. “One day, she found me on the floor,” says Girlease, who suffered a stroke a few years ago. “And that was the end.” Ever since, she’s been mostly confined to her Harlem apartment, where she’s lived for the past 60 years.

“I want to get up, dressed and out without having to ask someone for help. I don’t want to bother anybody.”

Girlease was born in Holly Hill, South Carolina, though her family moved to New York City when she was a child. For Girlease, New York is home. “I don’t know nothing but here,” she says. She worked as a seamstress in Manhattan’s Garment District for decades. 

Even after a long day spent sewing, Girlease would come home and stay up late into the night, making outfits for herself. “When I wanted to go someplace, I’d make something,” she says. “And I went a lot of places.” She and her late husband loved to go dancing at the Savoy Ballroom. Her closet is still filled with many of her creations. Looking at the careful, uniform stitches now, Girlease can’t help but marvel. “Sometimes, I don’t even believe I made that myself.”

For years now, the arthritis in her hands has made it impossible for her to pick up a needle and thread. It’s just one of the things that Girlease finds difficult about getting older. Simple things, like cooking, have become nearly impossible. It’s not just a matter of chopping vegetables and stirring a pot — oftentimes, Girlease will forget she’s cooking and leave her meal on the stove until she smells smoke. “I burn up a lot of things now,” she says.

It’s why home-delivered meals are so important. Girlease needs nourishing food that she can eat when she’s hungry, without the added preparation and planning that has become overwhelming. A lot about getting older is overwhelming. But as with all things, Girlease is determined to take it one day at a time. As she puts it: “I’m still here and that’s that.”