Shari Bryer turns fifty-three years old and decides to celebrate for seven days. Believing in maximizing personal milestones, she schedules an appointment for a anti-aging facial and a deep tissue massage, purchases a slinky dress with one shoulder, buys the latest mystery on the New York Times bestseller list, attends a movie that received four stars, and invests in a new IPhone. Her mother, Tzippy, when she turned eighty years old, purchased nine hundred dollar Prada shoes and an Armani pantsuit for her birthday party. Shari learned from the best, Now at fifty-three, Shari’s age coincides with the high side of middle. As a woman, it works against her in looks and desirability; but in her favor in the matters of career and advancement. People respect Shari because she is in business and listen to her opinion. She’s single, divorced, no kids, and a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for eight years and two months. Her boy friend of seven years is PJ Popowitz, a twice-divorced lawyer. It was P.J.’s influence that got Shari clean. He said he would never marry a drunk, a lush. That remark made Shari feel ashamed. Getting clean and never touching another drop of booze is a big deal, like turning the page on your life, never to revisit again. But Shari is not the waffling type, no greys in her life. Once she decides on a path that is the path she stays on, unless there is a crisis. It is the getting there that is bumpy and full of angst, but once on the saddle, she is off.
Shari is glad she is not ending up like Aunt Fanny who came to the Dolphin Yacht Club with her own bottle of Jack Daniel’s, set it down on the bar and asked the bartender for a glass with some ice. No, Shari is no bag lady, no family joke. Clean is good and she is a late bloomer due to an eating disorder she suffered from starting in adolescence. Anorexia is the one mental illness that has the distinct privilege of claiming one out of five suicides, and was a hurdle that caused her emotional pain. She’s committed that plus a slew of career and personal mistakes, but here she is at fifty-three, owner of a small boutique that she loves to run, and possessed of a pretty good business mind, thanks to her late father’s genes, Ben, and help from her mom’s second husband, Stan.
The new First Lady, Michelle Obama, ranks as Shari’s favorite woman. Her store, Shari’s Closet Boutique, down in Bal Harbour, Florida, is doing a nifty business. Being in business, she is learning, is a balancing act and you have to keep a straight face so you do not alienate anyone. Not so simple with her personality, but Shari is using self-control. Now that she’s off the booze, it is easier. Less often does she say things that she regrets, thinking before she speaks, she has developed a calmer, businesslike demeanor. Her mother is surprised but pleased. Tzippy says to her, “You have turned your life around, Shari,” and that remark makes Shari feel good inside. That one remark from her mother makes the difference.
At the moment Shari is entering all the different categories of business for the day in her large ledger, the way Stan taught her to do. Also, she loves to write ads for the local newspaper and say things like, Shari is having a blowout…fab fashion for all the hip gals! Writing a newsletter to her customers entertains her and she sends them out quarterly. Creativity runs in her veins. Being organized is a quality Shari has developed since opening her store and getting sober.
Meanwhile, Gretchen, her older saleswoman, a chunky middle-aged lady, takes no guff. Honest, caring, and dedicated, she wears the red apron with the ruffle that says Shari’s across the front and behaves like a doting grandma to the customers and Shari.
Shari closes up her shop. It has grown in size from its beginning when it was 800 square, gaining a back L shape of another 450 square feet. That is the area Shari has created a 1950’s Lord and Taylor look in the millinery area. She has small vanities with oval mirrors where the ladies can try on hats and chapeaux. They love to leave with a large round hatbox dangling by a chord with “Shari” written in flaring cursive on the top. Shari got the idea from Tzippy, who was a fashion maven in her youth.
Dropping the green canvas deposit bag in the First and Ocean bank’s slot outside of the building, she heads to the nursing home. Her mom, Tzippy, who is eighty-eight, is living at the Jewish Palm Tree Nursing Home in Boca Raton. Backing up to the Savannah Park, the nursing home looks bucolic and scenic. Set on a high hill, it appears majestic and more like a fancy country club. However, there is a separate building called Meadows for those patrons who have to stay in bed and need more medical attention. Her mom lives in the main building and has a small two-room apartment with a mini kitchen and adequate shelving. Shari drives over to visit. Tzippy has been there under a year, moving in after poor Stan died suddenly of a heart attack and Tzippy went downhill. She stopped caring how she looked, wouldn’t go out with Angie, her companion, stayed home and ate one scrambled egg a day. The adult kids were beside themselves and tried to put her on an anti-depressant, but it didn’t do the trick. Change in environment, the doctor suggested. Now she seems settled, although at first she didn’t like it at all…it was too small, too hot, too cold, unfriendly, tasteless food, you name it. The facility the adult kids chose is rated highly, there are few safety or health problems, it is a respected nursing home with no abuse or inattention issues, and the residents love it, for the most part. They have enough staff to care for the frail residents who do not get pressure sores or broken bones from falls. The rooms are clean and smell fresh, there are plenty of licensed nurses, and they have a Friday night service for the Jewish residents. There is a hairdresser on the premises and a bank machine as well as a mini store for those people who want to buy a small gift or loaf of bread. Now Tzippy has made some friends, plays scrabble, bingo several times a week, has a cocktail on Thursday and Saturday nights, a Brandy Alexandra in a martini glass, and, to Shari’s utter surprise, crochets! It is a new hobby and Tzippy makes the cutest little baby hats and blankets. Bruce has two older kids, and two new children, not baby sizes, and Naomi’s daughter is pregnant. So Tzippy is saving a few pieces wrapped in tissue paper in her underwear drawer for Wendy’s baby, but Tzippy is generous of heart and gives some infant items away. Art class is her favorite activity and she oil paints, which Shari has to admit, her paintings are pretty damn good, and Tzippy enters her work in the semi-annual nursing home art show.
Tzippy is too thin and Shari hates seeing her mother shrink away into an old lady and become someone else, not the woman she used to be when she was raising Shari, so she brings her milk shakes, frappes, and ice cream sundaes when she visits, which Tzippy sips because her appetite is gone.
Apartment living is a comfortable choice for Tzippy, but the one she has now is small and cluttered with her stuff; family pictures on the wall, a birdcage, and a quilt and throw pillows on the bed, and is wallpapered with little bouquets of yellow flowers. Of course, some of Tzippy’s finer items are tucked into the small space, like an antique ottoman, a Lucite box filled with beautiful seashells, and an Oriental lamp. Her two night tables with the beautiful angels grace Tzippy’s tiny bedroom and Tzippy thanks Arietta Flock, her designer, for that touch.
As Shari knocks and walks into her mom’s place, Tzippy is sitting in a wheelchair and is fully made up, lipstick fresh, a peach colored cashmere sweater covering her thin frame to keep her warm, with mildly arthritic hands. Not really needing a wheelchair, Tzippy enjoys being pushed around or rolling along the halls by herself. She says it is preferred over a walker, which she finds clunky and awkward. Her red half glasses rest on her nose that has a slight scoop because she had a cancerous spot removed last year. She has hunched shoulders now and looks tiny in the large chair, but her face lights up when her daughter enters.
“Hi, mom, how’s it going?” Shari says as she kisses her mother on her red lips. “I brought you a chocolate shake today. Here, drink some. You look like you need it.” Shari hands her mom a milkshake in a paper cup and delicately places it down.
“Oh, sweetheart, thank you. Just put it here on my lap and I’ll have some. How are you today?
“Great. Had a good day at the store, made a bunch of sales and got in a new shipment of pretty tops. I wish you could see what I’m doing to the window.”
“You’re so clever. Take a picture when you are done so I can see.”
“Mom, I can take you over if you want to go. Just tell me when. I will take pictures too. Good idea. You haven’t lost your smarts, girl.”
“I have something for you to give PJ. Look over there,” she says as she points to a stack of paintings on the floor, “and take the one with the Red Sox hat.”
Shari laughs as she lifts the painting of a blue cap with a red B and the sign “This is Red Sox Country” and admires it. There is brown bat and white baseball with red stitching also. “Well, he’ll love it.”
“Yes, I know how he has that boat with the name “Sweet Caroline” on it. I think it’s his birthday so I painted it for him.”
“That boat has been replaced by a larger one and is now called “Sweet Caroline II.”
“Well, well. Then it is still appropriate, isn’t it?”
“Ma, you are something the way you remember everything.”
“Even at eighty-eight, I have a brain.”
“Don’t make me laugh. You’re as foxy as a cat.”
Just then a lady knocks on the door and when Shari opens it, she says, “Hi, I’m here to see Tzippy. Oh, there you are, sweetheart. Tzippy are you going to the movies? Tom Cruise is in his current film. You know how you love Tom.
“Oh, yes. I don’t want to miss it. Irene, this is my daughter, Shari. Irene Goldberg, my new friend.”
Irene stands at the door, leaning on a walker, bedecked in jewelry and red lipstick and coiffed teased hair. Being a short woman and bent over, she resembles a chunky elf. Thick in the middle with skinny legs and a puffy hairdo, Shari smiles at her image.
“Glad to meet you,” she says.
“Come here, Irene,” Tzippy says. “I have something to tell you.”
Irene hobbles into the room. She is stooped, brunette, heavily lined, and full of energy.
“Just a tip. You should have your family put all that expensive jewelry in a safety deposit box and buy you fake stuff. You can’t trust the help around here. Nursing home staff are notorious dishonest. They’re thieves. They steal from the old ladies and can’t be trusted.”
“Oh, dear. Did that happen to you?”
“No, I’m too smart for them. I’m an old shoplifter myself; I hate to say so, but I am wise to their ways. Just take my advice.”
Shari rolls her eyes and holds her tongue. She thinks the entire exchange is too funny to comment on. Remembering Stan’s surprise at hearing of Tzippy’s theft at stealing a brooch at Saks Fifth Avenue and how he called the detectives “those damn bastards,” Shari is not shocked at Tzippy’s advice to her new friend.
“Okay, Tzippy, if you say so. Now do you want to go to the movie?”
“It’s okay, mom. Go and see Tom Cruise. You always had an eye for a sexy guy.”
“Yes, I still do!”
Shari kisses her mom and pushes her out into the hall while Irene walks along in her walker to the elevator.
“You know my daughter owns a business in Bal Harbour, a boutique. It’s called Shari’s Closet Boutique. You should tell your family, Irene.” Tzippy puffs up as she speaks.
“Well, I most certainly will, young lady,” Irene says.
When they go down in the elevator and get to the media room, Shari waves to the ladies and says, “I’ll give P.J the painting, Mom.”