Originally published for the prompt Ageism, I hope you’ll read or reread this story now.
College Girl – for Aunt Hannah
“One is never too old to learn.”, Hannah told us when she announced she was starting college in her 80s.
My husband’s aunt Hannah was the gentlest soul I’ve ever known. No one in our family can remember her saying a harsh or an unkind word.
Hannah and her siblings fled Hitler’s Germany in the late 1930s for Switzerland, Palestine, and South America, and some of them, including 24 year-old Hannah, eventually settled in New York. Here she made a new life for herself and had a decades-long career working for the United Nations.
Hannah was a beautiful young woman with many suitors, though she never married. With no children of her own, she doted on her nephew, my husband Danny. He remembers that as a kid Hannah and her boyfriends often took him out for ice cream.
Years later when her great-nephew, our son Noah was born, Hannah became his beloved and favorite babysitter, always arriving with chocolate bars and M&Ms in her pockets for him to ferret out. Together they went to the Central Park Zoo, all the city’s museums, children’s shows and movies, and never missed the St Patrick’s Day parade.
When Hannah retired after her years at the UN, she enrolled at Fordham University’s College at 60, a wonderful program for older adults who’d never been to college. Classes met at the Fordham campus in the West 60s, and by serendipity I was on a study sabbatical then taking classes just across town at Hunter College in the East 60s. And so that year she and I became study mates!
Hannah took some wonderful social science, literature and art history courses, and asked for my help with her writing assignments. And so we’d meet to work together at the Hunter College cafeteria, at a coffeeshop near Fordham, or at one of our apartments.
One of Hannah’s art history assignments was to describe her reactions to an artist whose work intrigued her, and so after spending several afternoons at the Met, Hannah choose Caravaggio. Discussing his art and seeing his paintings through Hannah’s eyes was a delight, and a friend of mine called Hannah “the aunt I was putting through college”!
At the end of the academic year my sabbatical was over and in the fall I went back to work. Hannah, delighted by her new college experience, enrolled at Fordham again. But by then her health had begun to decline, and it soon became difficult for her to get to class.
Concerned over her absences, Hannah’s very kind College at 60 advisor called her and offered to send home reading materials and assignments for each class. Hannah could work at her own pace and send in her homework and papers, and I would be her conduit.
But sadly Hannah wasn’t to finish that semester, and she died a few weeks later.
Everyone at College at 60 had been so good to Hannah, that I wanted to tell them in person. When I arrived with my sad news, teachers and students rushed to embrace me and together we cried for my sweet aunt Hannah.
– Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
This is a lovely, touching story, Dana. How wonderful that Hannah kept learning. My mother went back to college (she had about two years) when I was in college, and we studied together as well. What a hoot, she drank beer with the kids and went on geology field trips. As an accomplished artist, she wowed her classics professor by creating amazing versions of Greek pottery. She got her BA six months before I did.
Wow Marian, your mom’s story is truly lovely as well!
What a loving portrait, Dana. My father also returned to college after he retired and was (at that time) the oldest graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit. He even got his picture in the paper and was pretty proud of his achievement. After the first round of higher education he did when he was younger, he became a CPA. He hated his job and the second time he majored in art history.
Wonderful Laurie, bravo to your dad!
Touching story, Dana. I teared up at the end for you sweet Aunt Hannah too. Incredible that she was a lifelong learner.
Thanx Betsy, Danny and I both teared up when I read it to him. ❤️
Lovely story, Dana, as others have already said. Thanks for telling us about Aunt Hannah. This is a good antidote to all the stories about ageism!
Thanx Suzy, she was indeed someone very special!
What a fascinating, extraordinary and inspiring woman, your Aunt Hannah, and how fortunate you were to have her in your life, Dana!
Thank you Barbara, Hannah was surely someone special and sorely missed in our family, we talk about her so often. ❤️
I loved how you and Aunt Hannah became “study mates”. It had to be such a special relationship for you both. She definitely was an amazing woman and certainly defied the expectations of the aging process. I’ve been looking into free college classes for the elderly in New Jersey and sadly finding so many programs have been discontinued. This story has inspired me to continue my search, thanks Dana.
Thanx Patty, and hope you do find classes, it would be great fun!
I loved this story—so glad you resubmitted it! It was full of warmth and goodness and hope and love and yet very straightforward. What a wonderful person. Picture was great too. Brought tears to my eyes.
Thanx for your kind words Khati!
Hannah was a great gift to your family and community. We should all aspire to leave such a humane contribution. Your story fills me with the warmth and joy of what is possible.
Thanx for your kind words Richard!
Hannah sounds like someone I’d have loved to be friends with. Lifelong learners are always admirable, but your Aunt took that to a whole new level!
Thanx Dave, Aunt Hannah was a special soul!