Jewel, a Citymeals recipient with a cane, at home.

Jewel crochets, her fingers winding the yarn around the metal needles in slow, practiced motions. “I have to take my time because my hands be shaking sometimes,” she says. She’s been crocheting since she was 12 years old — over six decades. Her aunt taught her how. “Every time I went to her house, she was crocheting something,” says Jewel.

The throw blanket she’s currently working on is a gift for her daughter-in-law. Jewel picked out the yarn specifically to match her and her son’s living room décor. She’s nearly done. It’s a project that’s taken her about three months to complete. “I like to stay busy,” she says. “I’m so used to moving around and doing things. I don’t know how to be still.” 

Growing up, Jewel’s home life was fraught. “Nobody in my family had a good life,” she says, “including me.” At 14 years old, she ran away from home. She started drinking, becoming lost in a haze of alcohol and drugs. By the time she was 15, Jewel was pregnant and in trouble with the law. She was sent to the New York Training School for Girls, a reformatory school upstate. There, Jewel gave birth to her daughter, got her GED and began the hard work of getting sober.

It would take several years — and a few lapses — before Jewel was entirely clean. Now, she’s been sober for over 30 years, something she could never have imagined as a teenager on the streets. “It’s something I needed to do for me,” says Jewel. “People think it’s easy to get sober, but it’s not. I had to learn how to love me — that’s how I changed.”

Jewel went back to school to become a nurse’s assistant. She got a job at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, working in the pediatric unit. She continued to attend AA meetings religiously. It was in one of those meetings in 1979 that she met her long-term boyfriend, Arthur. “It was meant to be,” she says. “Arthur was the best thing that ever happened to me.” He passed away in 2022, due to complications from Covid 19.

Jewel has had Covid twice herself. Two years ago, she was sick at the same time as Arthur. Recently, she got Covid again from her home health aide. Both times, she needed to be hospitalized. Now, she’s very wary of getting sick again. She skipped Thanksgiving dinner with her son and his family, worried about the crowd of people he was expecting. She no longer wants a health aide coming into the home, and Jewel requires the few visitors she does get to wear masks. She’d grown accustomed to such isolation.

In 2001, Jewel had her first stroke. It left her with vertigo so severe, she had trouble walking unaided. After three decades working as a nurse, she was forced to retire. “I miss it, though — the babies and the children,” she says. At 78 years old, Jewel rarely leaves her apartment in the Bronx. It’s a small, but tidy space in a building designated for senior housing. It gets good light in the morning, which is great for her houseplants. “Those are my babies,” she says. She waters them every Monday and Friday and follows a carefully regimented plant food schedule.

I eat anything that's easy to make, so I don't have to stand up.

Feeding herself is a little harder. Jewel loved to cook when she was younger, but now her limited mobility also limits her in the kitchen. She can prepare simple meals, “Anything that’s easy,” she says, “so I don’t have to stand up.” But even with her cane, Jewel can’t be on her feet for too long. She can’t leave the apartment on her own. Jewel’s son lives nearby, but his work schedule means he can’t always be there. He and his wife do stop by to check on her, bringing her food and groceries, but Jewel relies on Citymeals to provide her with one guaranteed meal a day. She’s been receiving home-delivered meals for the past eight years.

Jewel with Citymeals deliverer Marco.
Jewel with Marco, who delivers her meals every day.

Jewel spends most of her time in the living room. Recently, her son moved her bed there, so she doesn’t have to go into the bedroom and risk tripping on the carpet. She cares for her plants, crochets, reads and listens to music. For the past few years, she’s been writing down her life story, carefully typing it all out on the old typewriter she keeps in the hall closet. “I don’t really get bored because I like what I do,” she says.

Though she concedes that old age comes with its own problems, Jewel doesn’t like to complain. “I don’t even feel the age I am,” she says. Jewel takes every day as a gift, especially since there were so many times when her life could have ended differently. If she’d never gotten clean, she wouldn’t be where she is now — a retired nurse, a mother, a grandmother. Someone she can be proud of. The way she sees it, all the aches, pains and wrinkles that come with aging are something she earned, like a badge of honor. They’re her rewards for overcoming everything life has thrown at her and making it this far.