“If you could choose any title for yourself, what would it be?” I asked that question to my luncheon comrades at AgeSong’s Bayside elder community in Emeryville. They responded with such titles as Director of Social Services, Cinderella, Governor of California, Fresh Air, and President of the University of California.
When further probed, “Why did you choose that title for yourself?,” I received such responses as the following:
- Director of Social Services: “I can choose activities, such as opera.”
- Cinderella: “because she changes”
- Governor of California: “We really need a good governor to straighten everything out.”
- Fresh Air: “I like fresh air.”
When Dinah Bailes, AgeSong’s Chief Operating Officer, joined us, I asked her what title she would choose. “The Empress,” she replied, in harmony with our conversation.
Over a tasty meal of fresh fish chowder (the real thing, not Campbells) and dish of your choice (I chose a fresh Ceasar salad with grilled chicken), a group of us sat at one large table, surrounded by other diners in smaller conversation clusters, in AgeSong’s modern dining room with large windows looking out on the world.
The discussion came about after I introduced myself to others at the table. When they heard I had a background in the fashion industry, the gentlewoman sitting across from me said that she had worked in sales of gloves in The City of Paris. “You worked in Paris?” I asked in awe. “Not the real Paris,” she replied, “ a department store in San Francisco called “The City of Paris.” Later I looked this name up in Wikipedia, and found the following description:
The City of Paris Dry Goods Company (later City of Paris) was one of San Francisco’s most important department stores from 1850 to 1976, located diagonally opposite Union Square. During mid 20th century it opened a few branches in other cities of the Bay Area. The main San Francisco store was demolished in 1980 after a lengthy preservation fight to build a new Neiman Marcus, although the store’s original rotunda and glass dome were preserved and incorporated into the new design. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Paris_Dry_Goods_Co.
“Every woman wore gloves in those days,” my table companion continued, “I worked for the City. Mr Verdier founded the store.” Upon further researching, I found that the company was founded by Felix Verdier in 1850. He arrived in San Francisco Harbor on a chartered ship, the “Ville de Paris,”
loaded with silks, laces, fine wines, champagne, and Cognac. Verdier had previously owned a silk-stocking manufacturer in Nîmes, France. The citizens of San Francisco quickly surrounded the ship with rowboats and purchased all the goods without them ever being unloaded from the ship. Many purchases were made with bags of gold dust. Verdier quickly returned to France and loaded the ship bound for San Francisco arriving in 1851, where he opened a small waterfront store at 152 Kearney Street called the City of Paris. The store’s Latin motto (Fluctuat nec mergitur, “It floats and never sinks”) was borrowed from the city seal of Paris. The store’s final and best-known location was a Beaux-Arts building designed by architect Clinton Day, built in 1896 on the corner of Geary and Stockton streets across from Union Square.
My own choice for title was “Queen of Hearts.” As I explained to my luncheon companions, when I owned a retail fashion business, I had been labeled “The Queen of Fashion” in my county, but when I closed the business, I was renamed “Queen of Hearts” by my instructor in counseling psychology at the University of San Francisco. I was wearing a heart lariat as a reminder of what’s most important to me.
After this delightful luncheon conversation, my tablemates left for an excursion to the charming upscale Fourth Street shopping district in Berkeley. On the way out of the dining room, I stopped for a few moments to chat with “Uncle Bob” who, when he was a teen, would listen to Benny Goodman and his high school band, Austin High Boys, in Chicago.
I also chatted with Miriam Chaya, an actress, filmmaker, and writer, whose film on “Timbrels & Torahs: Celebrating Women’s Wisdom” has been shown all over the world. The film was written, performed, and produced by Miriam. In the film, several participants at an eldering ceremony, entitled Simchat Chochma (celebration of wisdom), chose to change their names. “I never liked my name,” Miriam noted, “By taking the name of Miriam, I was empowering myself to become my true self. This film, which was not just about choosing a new name, but really looking into who you are and who you will become as you age. The film was first shown at the 1970 Jewish Film Festival in the Castro Theater in San Francisco. There was so much demand to see this film that I toured the entire country and Europe to show the film and teach women how to make a celebration of aging ceremony.” Miriam and I talked about holding a women’s rite of passage film festival during Women’s History Month this coming March.
On the way out, I briefly chatted with a gentleman who used to have a large library, but had to give it up when he moved to AgeSong. I asked what his favorite book was. He responded “Two Years Before the Mast because it was a personal narrative about life at sea.” Upon further research, I found the following brief description on the background of this book:
While an undergraduate at Harvard College, Dana had an attack of the measles which affected his vision. Thinking it might help his sight, Dana left Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn on the brig Pilgrim. He returned to Massachusetts two years later aboard the Alert (which left California sooner than the Pilgrim). He kept a diary throughout the voyage, and, after returning, he wrote a recognized American classic, Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840, the same year of his admission to the bar.
I don’t know the last time I had such an enjoyable lunch (usually I gobble down lunch at my computer or snack in the car). Earlier during the day, I participated in a flower arranging activity, where residents were making arrangements for a memorial to honor a resident who recently passed way. Each moment is special at AgeSong. Visitors are welcome to tour the beautiful AgeSong Bayside Park elder community, 1440 40th Street Emeryville, CA 94608. Call first: 510.594.8800.
If you could choose any title for yourself, what would it be?
Dr. Sally Gelardin, AgeSong Journalist and Reporter
AgeSong Senior at Bayside Park | 1440 40th Street, Emeryville, California 94608 | 510-594-8800 | License # 015601425
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