Tag Archives: Lillian Heckler

Day One Hundred and Thirty: I dedicate this to my friends, Lillian Heckler and Helen Chao. I will miss you both!

It is never easy saying Goodbye to a close friend especially ones that you have known for thirty years. I know that the holidays are never easy but when you had to attend as many wakes, Memorial services and funerals as I did this year, it puts the holiday season into perspective.

The toughest is when you lose a friend who has seen you from everything from the beginnings of your career, to the loss of a family member and all your successes and failures in life and at the same time never judges you for it but still offers sound advice. That is what a real friend does.

I just lost two friends I have long mentioned in my blogs, Helen Chao and Lillian Heckler, who have know for thirty and twenty-five years respectively.

Helen I had met on my second day of work at R. H. Macy when our Executive Training Program class took our tour of the Herald Square store. We started at the bottom the store and worked our way up the eight floors of selling space. One of the stops was in the Visitors Center on the Mezzanine of the store. We were introduced to the people who worked there and took some time to look around.

Helen Chao

Helen Chao, my ‘Macy Mom’

One of my best friends was living in Singapore at the time and I wanted to get him a store directory in Chinese as a gift to show him where I was working. So on lunch hour I doubled back to the Visitors Center to find one. This is how I met Helen. I asked her where I could find one and at the time there was none in Chinese only Japanese. Since he spoke both French and English on top of Chinese, I got him the directories in English, French and Japanese as a gift.

We just got to talking and we ended up talking the whole lunch hour. Later on that week I stopped by again to say hello and that started the friendship between myself, Helen and another woman, Linda, who also worked in the Department. We just got along so well that I would stop by every once in while when I was in Training Squad classes.

That blossomed into a long friendship between the three of us that lasted until Linda left the company three years later. When I returned from a two year job experience in our New Haven store (now closed) as a manager and then was promoted back to the Herald Square store as an Assistant Buyer, Helen and I resumed our friendship. We would go out to lunch when the two of us had time and would visit the store for the Flower Show and for Christmas when we were both off from work.

Over the years, we exchanged laughs and lots of stories. Helen told me how her family had come to America after the Cultural Revolution and her father had been an educator and had to leave the county. Her mother was Japanese and I am sure that did not make it easier for the two of them in those difficult times. I always found the stories about her life fascinating. She would also give me the latest stories of her children and grandchildren and their doings.

After her retirement from Macy’s and her family’s move from Valley Stream, NY to Flushing, NY admittingly like a lot of friends the connection that bound us, Macy’s, was gone and she was not in the City as much. Still over the years we kept in touch and would meet to see the Macy’s Flower Show in the Spring and in Chinatown for Dim Sum when she was at a doctor’s appointment. As time went on though, these became less and less as work  and commitments took away our free time.

In the later years, we saw one another at least once a year and I always called her on her birthday (we were ten days apart), Chinese New Year and Christmas and I always sent cards out to her. I had seen her for the last time in 2015 when I read about a Dim Sum Palace in Flushing that was noted as the best in the City and we decided to meet there. It was nice to see her again but even I had to admit things had changed. We ended up talking about the past and she wasn’t as chatty as she used to be. We had a nice time but it did not seem the same. The sad part was one month after our lunch, Helen suffered a stroke. I found that out about four months later when I was finally able to reach her husband.

Having taken care of my own father after his stroke and being the primary caregiver (Visit my blog, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’ on WordPress.com), I was Helen’s biggest cheerleader. I would call at the holidays and her birthday to encourage her, send her cards to cheer her up and just be a friend. I always got the impression she did not want me to visit her so I respected that.

The last time I talked to her was on her birthday on October 1st, 2018 and we had a nice conversation. I could tell she was tired but she was happy I called and told me she had gotten my birthday card. She thanked me for always remembering after all these years. I did not realize that she had turned 90.

My last phone to Helen was on December 22, 2018 right before Christmas. I would be visiting my mother and our family at the holidays and would not have time to make my traditional phone calls Christmas morning as I had done the previous four years. This is when her husband had told me that she had passed away the night before. We had a very heartfelt conversation that lasted almost an hour and I gave him my condolences. He said that she always appreciated all those years of phone calls and cards and how much it meant that I never forgot her at the holidays and her birthday.

As we said our goodbyes and I wished him and his family a happy holiday season in these difficult times, it was surreal to know that I would not be talking to her again after thirty years of friendship. The one impression I got was that in some small way I was cheering her up and encouraging her all those years and maybe that made a small difference in her life that a friend did not forget her. I was glad she was part of the my life.

My friendship with Lillian happened many years later when I was an Manager at FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue, the upscale toy store on Fifth Avenue. I had worked at the store as a manager from July of 1995 to February of 1996 right before I left to attend the Culinary Institute of America. I had casually met her and talked to her when I ran the Boy’s Action Department which was right next to the Pre-School Department where she worked.

Lillian Heckler

Lillian Heckler, the ‘Grandma’ of FAO Schwarz

How I got to know Lillian better is when I had to leave school in 1997 to earn money for my last semester and went back to FAO for seven months to work the holiday season as a full time manager. Management placed me in the Pre-School Department as a Manager as some of the other managers in the store said it was ‘difficult to work there’ because of all the long service employees that dominated the department. I ended up blossoming in the department and it was one of the best managerial experiences I had had in years.

Lillian greeted me in the Pre-School Department with “Hi Justin, I’m Lillian but you can just call me ‘Grandma’ if you like.” I told her I preferred to keep it professional and I would just call her ‘Lillian’. I loved her energy and the fact that she was 77 at the time and she could ring circles around most of the staff in the store. She and the other long service employees in the department Barbara, Clover and Shirley I found to be a real asset to the department in that they never called in sick, knew their merchandise, knew how to merchandise and could sell up a storm. We did a lot of laughing as well.

After I finished my holiday stint at FAO, I continued to stop in the store on my weekends home when I was in the City and would visit the ladies. We would still continue our conversations and I would regale my stores of what was happening in cooking school. Later on after graduation, I would work in the store again for another four months for the holiday season and would cover the department again. It was nice to work with that staff for the holidays.

After that, I moved on to Hawaii and California after graduation but I still kept in touch with Lillian and Barbara until they both retired from the company and eventually FAO would close the Fifth Avenue store after bankruptcy. Lillian, Barbara and I would continue to meet up in the City about four times a year for lunch and dinner and I would visit Lillian in Astoria, Queens when she got into her late 80’s and early 90’s. She lived by herself until she was 95.

A broken hip that year and some time in rehab led Lillian to an assisted living facility out in North Shore of Long Island near the fork of the North and South Shore of the Hamptons. I started to visit her again to catch up with her. After my own father passed (who this blog is dedicated to), I started to visit her more often especially close to her birthday and the holidays.

The last two years I had spent Easter, her birthday in June, Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas events and at least one day during the summer to visit her. I always brought out lunch for us (she liked to have Italian and Chinese because the facility did not serve the types she liked) and baked goods from the local bakery. In the warmer months, I would take her to the courtyard or patio and we would talk and converse with other caregivers and their families. We continued to have our long talks, our heart to hearts and laugh at old stories.

People at the facility that she was living at I could sometimes see could not understand why we were friends. This was considering the fact that I had known the woman for twenty four years and we had seen each other through the ups and downs of life. I never saw Lillian as being her age, I just saw her as being Lillian. I spent her 100th birthday with her on June 6th, 2018 (See Day One Hundred and Fourteen of “MywalkinManhattan.com”)and she had just as much pep that day as she always did. I drove her around the facility with balloons on her wheelchair and the staff and residents alike wish her a Happy Birthday. I could see the lives she touched there as well.

The last time I saw her was in December for the “Family Dinner” we had on her floor at the facility. I gave Lillian a choice when I came out to visit for Christmas, I could come to the dinner or to the concert the next week. It would be hard to do both with my work schedule and we chose the dinner. We had such a nice time (See Day One Hundred & Twenty Four of “MywalkinManhattan.com”) and did a lot of laughing and talking. My visits always cheered her up.

Lillian and I at Xmas 2018

Lillian and I at the Christmas Dinner with the gift I gave her, Penelope the Pup from FAO Schwarz, a toy she sold many times

Something struck me though on my way to the facility. As I got closer and pulled off the highway, I had the sinking feeling that this was going to be the last time I would be visiting. It had really struck me hard.

I shook it off and decided to just have a good time. After the dinner was over, I headed home because I had to work the next day. Before I left, I talked with Lillian’s roommate’s daughters who joined us for dinner and gave them my number and my email address and asked them to contact me if anything were to happen to Lillian. It was them who told me that Lillian had passed.

I went to Northport for the wake and funeral and met Lillian’s grandchild and great grandchildren. We spent the night of the wake just sitting around talking. There were no other visitors besides myself and her family. We told our ‘Lillian’ stories. After the wake and her family left, I took a ride around Northport, NY and did not realize that such a pretty shore town existed.

Since Lillian had passed during the Epiphany, the town’s Christmas tree was still up at the harbor and I could not believe how beautiful and picturesque it was that night. I though “Lillian would have loved this”. I think that was the last gift she gave to me. They had a beautiful service for her and I said my goodbyes.

Northport Christmas Tree

The Northport, NY Christmas tree added some cheer on a gloomy evening

It was a tough time before and after Christmas but I am the one who was blessed with two wonderful friends who saw me through the beginnings of my career, my years in school and develop into the person I am now and was glad went through all the steps along the way.

So with much love, I dedicate this blog, One Hundred and Thirty and my midpoint of the island of Manhattan of my walk at 59th Street, to two very special “Ladies” in my life, Mrs. Helen Chao and Mrs. Lillian Heckler. Ladies, thank you for your love and friendship both for over twenty-five years. You are the best and I will not forget you!

With all my love, your friend, Justin!

 

 

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Day One Hundred and Twenty Four: Thanksgiving with Lillian in Kings Park, NY November 22, 2018

(This blog is in memory of my close friend, Lillian, who passed away on January 4th, 2019. My heart goes out to her family in losing such a wonderful person. I lost a good friend of twenty-three years. She was 100 years young and will always be Lillian to me!)

I went out to celebrate Thanksgiving again with my friend, Lillian. She is my friend that just turned 100 years old in June of 2018. I can’t believe that she is still sharp after all this time but then that is Lillian.

I had to drive out the day before so that I could let her know that I was coming for dinner. Trying to call her now is next to impossible as the nurses in her ward put the phone next to her and she can’t hold it. It gets to be trying with that.

Anyway, I had a nice night on Thanksgiving eve at the local Hampton Inn, which I had stayed at before and just relaxed. I was exhausted from all the activities that have been going on in my life and the fact that working four different jobs can take a toll on you. The hotel was decorated for the Christmas holidays and the tree in the lobby was fully lit with a tray of cookies right next to it for guests.

Traveling out to Kings Park, NY seems to have gotten a little easier since I now know the route much better. I also make it easier for myself by driving on the 495 the whole way. I saved myself so much time.

There are sometimes I don’t think Lillian knows who I am at first. She just kind of looks at me but the then the more we talk, the more she comes around. It must be tough because everytime I visit the facility that she lives in all the residents are asleep which is not good for them. There is not much stimulation in watching old movies all day long.

I woke her up and gave her a big greeting and told her we had the whole day to spend together. We first started out by getting her cleaned up a bit. I hate it when they leave clothes on her that have food from breakfast.

Then it was a off to a tour of the facility before lunch. It was nice seeing the facility she lives in all decorated for Christmas. We had a nice time looking over the decorations and the tree in the lobby. Many family members were gathering their loved ones for trips home while others would be joining up in the family dining room for dinner. It was so much more personable. The facility has a private dining room they use for special meals for residents and it makes it more of a formal occasion.

Lillian and I at Xmas 2018

Lillian  and I at the holidays

Lillian and I had a nice time. Unfortunately that had just changed her diet to a ground up diet (bummer) and she had to drink thick turkey and cream soups but she managed that very well. For a little thing, she can eat! I gave her three glasses of apple cider, a glass of water, both soups and a few bites of pumpkin puree with whipped cream and she ate it with gusto. She drank half of both soups with no problems. After the meal, I swear she was a different person. She was so much more alive. She went back to being Lillian.

I wheeled Lillian’s roommate, Marie down to the dining room to join us for entertainment. With the power of  song and music, there was a keyboardist who sang all sorts of Christmas songs and music from the 70’s and 80’s that got the crowd going. It really woke them up. The transformation of went from people in wheelchairs half asleep to a loud sing a long. When the keyboardist sang “Take me out to the ballgame”, the whole room woke up. I swear it was like the movie “The Awakenings” where everyone comes back to life from ‘comatose land’.  People started to sing with such happiness as if they were remembering a better time in their lives. Lillian was so happy and was singing and clapping along. I was glad to be able to give her this.

The musician also have me a chance to relax and digest. It was a long ride home. After the entertainment was done for the afternoon, I wheeled both Marie and Lillian back to their room so that they could relax. It was a lot for both of them I could tell but they were different people when I left from who they were when I arrived and both much happier. I never saw two women more alive after a short afternoon of a good dinner and music. That’s what keeping people active and a little love does. It gives a person purpose and a sense of self. I even felt much better as well. It is nice when you can make a difference in someones life.

My ride home was the quickest ever. I got home in 55 minutes and got over the George Washington Bridge in seven minutes! How’s that for a new world record! Maybe God was watching over me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Day One Hundred and Fourteen Visiting Lillian on her 100th Birthday June 6th, 2018

(In Memory of Lillian Heckler who passed on January 4th, 2019 going into her 101st year)

I went to visit a good friend of mine out on Long Island for her 100th birthday today. Even at 100, my friend, Lillian, still has mind that is very sharp and the luxury of a diet that she can eat everything and a healthy appetite (for someone who is 100).

I really lucked out with the weather as it had threatened to rain that day but ended up being a sunny day in the high 70’s. The sun peeked out enough where we could spend the day outside on the terrace away from the other residents.

Lillian and I have known each other since my days working at FAO Schwarz in the mid-nineties before I left for culinary arts school. I remember meeting Lillian for a brief moment in the late eighties when I was filling out an application to work at the store after graduation. She had directed my upstairs. I became good friends with her when I worked in the Pre-School Department in the Summer and Fall of 1996 when I took a leave from school. She had worked in the department for years at that point and at 86, she could ring circles around everyone in the department and in the store. I became very close to my staff in the department.

Having seen each other through life’s tragedies, with her the passing of her two children and mine with the passing of my dad, we have been each other’s listening ears. It takes a good friend to be there when a loved one is gone and be able to relate to it.

I have gone out more recently over the last two years as I have seen a big change in her and how happy these visits make her. I bring her meals for special occasions and for the holidays. Last year, I joined her for her birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas and this year for Easter and her milestone 100th birthday. With each visit, I see her immediately cheer up and get a great big smile on her face when I come.

I told her that she is my hero for being 100 years old and still being able to do the things that she does. She still has a sharp mind and wit to her, a nice appetite where she is not restricted in her diet and the fact that when she gets up every morning that she has a purpose. She is the facility’s cheerleader.

She has always told me that when someone new comes to her floor and they look sad in being there, she will wheel herself over and try to cheer them up and make them feel welcome. That is a rare thing in assisted living. She gets involved in all sorts of activities like arts & crafts, music appreciation and special events especially during the holidays. She was in an Easter Bonnet parade this Easter and for the last two years, she was in the Christmas choir for a family day at the facility. She never lets the pitfalls of life affect her.

For her birthday, I went to Main Street Pizza Cafe at 89 Main Street (See my review on TripAdvisor) to pick up some lasagna with meat sauce and garlic knots for her birthday lunch. The food here is excellent. Their marinara sauce is delicious and really makes all their dishes shine. The lasagna is creamy on the inside and has a rich flavor from the meats they use in their sauce. Their garlic knots are soft on the inside and crisp and garlicky on the outside. While I was waiting, I was starved and order a piece of their ‘Grandma’ pizza with fresh tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese and it was one of the best slices of pizza I had had in a long time. The whole outside crust was brushed in garlic accented by the fresh tomato sauce that made every bite incredible.

For dessert and her birthday cake, I got some Italian cookies and a strawberry short cake with a birthday message at Park Bake Shop at 112 Route 25 Street A (See my reviews on TripAdvisor and my blog, “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). I swear that this has got to be one of the best bakeries in the Northeast. Everything I have tried here is delicious and some of the best German and Italian baked products around. Their doughnuts and turnovers are always excellent, topped or filled with all sorts of sweet ingredients. Lillian loved her birthday cake!

We spent our afternoon outside on the front terrace celebrating her birthday with a lot of good food, great conversation and a lot of laughs. We were joined with another caregiver who was taking care of an old friend of the family and the four of us did a lot of talking. I was surprised how both Lillian and the other woman just joined into the conversation like no one’s business. I think this is the power of caring and treating people who have a disability with respect and not as if they are different.

We spent our afternoon catching up on old times, things going on in our lives and Lillian told me of her time in the home. You should have seen how these women opened up when they had someone to talk to and who listened. The power of conversation!

After a nice afternoon of eating, lots of laughs and reminiscing, I had to head home on the long trip to New Jersey. So I got Lillian back inside and said my goodbyes. She was a different person when I left with a big smile and a big birthday balloon on her wheelchair to cheer her up. What a way to spend your 100th birthday!

This is what good friends are for!

Places to Eat:

Main Street Pizza Cafe

89 Main Street

Kings Park, NY  11754

(631) 269-0712

http://www.mainstreetpizzany.com

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48001-d2524766-Reviews-Main_Street_Pizza_Cafe-Kings_Park_Long_Island_New_York.html?m=19905

Park Bake Shop

112 Route 25 Street A

Kings Park, NY  11754

(631) 269-3825

http://www.parkbakeshop.com

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48001-d933880-Reviews-Park_Bake_Shop-Kings_Park_Long_Island_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/645

 

Day Seventy-Six: Visiting Lillian for her 99th Birthday in Kings Park, NY June 5, 2017

I recently watched the movie “Harold & Maude” and its pretty similar with a more friendship factor with my close friend, Lillian, who I have known for twenty-three years and I went out to celebrate her 99th birthday. That is something!

Lillian has been living in Kings Park, NY now for about five years now and I have to say has been one of my best friends for over twenty years since I first met her at F.A.O. Schwarz, where we both worked at the time. I was the manager of the Children’s Department and Lillian was one of my sales associates. At 86, she could still ring circles around most sales people in the store, men or women, who were a third her age. There was just something about the spark of this woman that made all the employees and the customers gravitate around her. She is just a lovely person.

She even told me that at the facility her main purpose is to be a cheerleader for new residents. When I talk with her on the phone, she is still sharp as a whip but does have a tendency to repeat herself. At 99, she can do what she wants.

Kings Park, New York is located on the North Shore of Long Island just past Huntington and on the border with Smith Haven. The Assisted Living facility that she resides at is right near Sunken Meadow Park, one of the New York State National Parks. The whole area by the Long Island Sound is just beautiful. Many of the homes near the facility are picturesque and have beautiful views of the Sound.

For her birthday, she requested Chinese food, which I am happy to oblige. When you go to downtown Kings Park, there is a small but nice selection of restaurants and stores. The sad part is the area seems a little depressed with many open store fronts. The area still is quirky with some unusual things to see.

The last two times that I visited Lillian, I ordered take out food from Dragon House Chinese Restaurant, which is located in a strip mall in 118A Main Street in downtown Kings Park (See review on TripAdvisor). For a small take out place, the food is excellent. I enjoy ordering from the restaurant because the staff is friendly and helpful. Lillian has a good but not huge appetite so I ordered two dishes for us to share, the Sweet & Sour Pork and the Chicken with Garlic Sauce, both of which I highly recommend. Their roast pork fried rice is wonderful and their eggrolls are excellent. Its fun to watch Lillian chow down.

I got her birthday cake at Park Bakery, 112 Route 25 Street A, which is located two doors down (See review on TripAdvisor). I love going there! Their pastries, doughnuts and cakes are excellent and their employees could not be nicer. The bakery is a step back in time to the 70’s when the pace was slower and people actually talked to you.

I got a small strawberry shortcake for her birthday cake, a tray of cookies for her room to share with the other residents and nurses and then a flower cupcake for her to share at dinner with her tablemates. They do such a good job decorating cakes and the taste is amazing. Everything is so fresh and delicious. I even ordered their version of a ‘cronut’, which is a cross between a doughnut and a croissant and they fill it with fresh currant jelly and dip it in cinnamon-sugar. It is chewy, crisp and packed with tart flavor from the jelly. Not to be missed when stopping there.

After I got all the orders packed up and into the car, off I went for her birthday celebration. She was so happy I came to celebrate her birthday. It is so sad that most of her family has either died off or is so far away that they do not visit her. I found out from one the nurses that my December visit was the first one she had in almost two years.  Her family lives so far away that it is tough for them to see her.

I always love the looks the other residents give me when I visit her. I can tell there is a tinge of jealousy in all the special attention I give to her. It is tough for most of these residents, whose families are too busy to visit them. This is why my time with her is precious. When you have been what we have been through over the years and what a true friend is you understand.

We had a really nice lunch together and the people surrounding us in the private dining room off the main on wished her a ‘Happy Birthday’. I could tell she really loved the lunch as Dragon House does a nice job with their combination platters. She just dove into the pork and the chicken dishes and loved their eggrolls. They make some of the best ones I have eaten.

I sang a quick ‘Happy Birthday’ song to her (I can’t sing) and we just laughed over the Strawberry Shortcake Birthday cake I bought. She was beaming after that. Park Bakery does such a nice job on their mini-cakes and it was just enough for the two of us and one other person who wanted a taste.

After lunch, we walked around the facility visiting some of her friends and then we sat in the private area off Independent Living and talked for the rest of the afternoon. I know Lillian knows what is going on around her and she makes the best of it. She knows that her family has not visited her in awhile. I love her upbeat attitude on life and the fact that she is so helpful and cheerful to the other residents.

The best part was that as we walked around the facility, many of the staff asked who I was and when I told them I was an old friend visiting her on her 99th birthday, everyone got excited and gave her a big hug and kiss and wished her well. One of the nurses from the other side of the building told her she would stop by with a balloon for her wheelchair. Lillian was loving the fuss made over her. She said to everyone that she was 99 years young.

She talked about her family, her jobs especially as a teacher, her husband and the people at the facility who were her friends. She has gotten used to the activities, the pace of living and the food. She also has a lovely room and gets out and goes to church, does arts & crafts and goes to movie nights. This facility keeps them very busy.

After our afternoon out, Lillian wanted to take a rest before her next activity before dinner and I had a two hour ride home to New Jersey. I said my goodbyes with a big hug and kiss and dropped the rest of the cookies in her room as a surprise.

Before heading home, I took a quick tour of Kings Park and walked the downtown one more time to look at the restaurant menus and take a tour of the historical park near the railroad on the history of Kings Park. Then I drove around the North Shore to take a view of the beauty of the area with its parks and long stretches of woods.

It was a nice afternoon out and I dedicate this blog to Lillian on her 99th Birthday! There are more surprised in 364 day for her 100th!

Happy Birthday Lillian!!

 

Places to Eat in Kings Park, NY:

Dragon House

118A Main Street

Kings Park, NY  11754

(631) 554-5438

Open:  Sunday 1:00pm-10:00pm/Monday-Thurday 11:00am-10:00pm/Friday & Saturday 11:00am-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48001-d10641889-Reviews-Dragon_House_Chinese_Restaurant-Kings_Park_Long_Island_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/632

 

The Park Bake Shop

112NY-25A

Kings Park, NY  11754

(631) 269-3825

http://parkbakeshopkingspark.com/

Open: Sunday 6:00am-7:00pm/Monday-Saturday 5:00am-7:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48001-d933880-Reviews-Park_Bake_Shop-Kings_Park_Long_Island_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/645