The Wisdom Project at Moment: Inspirational conversations with wise people who have been fortunate to live long lives
This week’s conversation is with Eleanore Carsons, 104, of Boca Raton, Florida.
Eleanore Carsons was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her birth father died in the 1918-1919 Spanish flu epidemic. Her mother remarried and Eleanore’s stepfather adopted her when she was six years old. She went to New York University planning to be a teacher. Instead, saying hello to a boy named Morris (Moe) Carsons in a history of education class when she was 19 led to a 53-years-long marriage, two children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren. When Moe Carsons died in 1995, Eleanore started a new life’s chapter at age 76, eventually moving from New York to Florida permanently, where she lives independently in a 55-and-over community. Now, at 49 years over 55, she looks back and forward.
What did you first learn about your family as an adult?
That the person who I grew up with as my father was actually my stepfather. I never knew I was adopted until many years later when I was rummaging in the office for something. I came across adoption papers and realized they were for me.
Did you tell anyone that you’d found out?
Never, until my father passed away. And then we were sitting shiva for him. I said to my brother, ‘I have something to tell you.’ And he said, ‘I know exactly what you’re going to tell me, and I’ve known it all along, but you were not supposed to know it so we never said anything.’ It was a very stressful moment. I was happy to get it out into the open.
You never told your mother you knew?
No. I said to myself, if my mother didn’t tell me, there must be a reason. And I will never embarrass her by asking.
Did it change your view of your childhood?
No! I came from a very close knit, affectionate family. I had a wonderful childhood!
Have you ever experienced antisemitism?
Yes. When the war broke out, my husband was drafted into the Army and went to Camp Crowder in Missouri. After his basic training, I went out there to be with him. I needed a place to live so I went apartment hunting and found a place with a sign that said Room to Rent. I asked the woman to show it to me. And she looked at me and said, “You are from New York and you are Jewish, so I wouldn’t rent to you.” And I don’t know where I got the courage, but I said, “Well, I wouldn’t live here if that’s the way you feel.” Up to then, I’d never experienced antisemitism. Everybody I knew in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was Jewish.
What do you think of the resurgence of open antisemitism today?
I am absolutely appalled that in this day and age, people could be so ignorant and so stupid and so biased. I’m amazed at the way this country has developed. It’s not the United States that I knew.
Antisemitism has always been there. I don’t like to get political, but I think Trump brought it out into the open. It became okay to be antisemitic, to be prejudiced, to hate people. You don’t have to agree with people, but act like a human being.
How do you keep up with the news?
I stopped watching the news because all you hear about is guns and shootings. When they wrote the Second Amendment, people needed guns to shoot for food. You don’t need that anymore. Between that and the weather—where they say there’s no climate change when all you can see is climate change—I just stopped watching.
What do you say to women in the states where they’ve lost their reproductive rights?
Protest. Protest and protest. Speak up. Vote. And don’t vote for people who don’t give a damn about this country, but are only looking out for themselves.
Was there an event in your life that changed you in any way?
My husband Moe’s death. He was a wonderful man. I always said the kids tolerated me, but they adored him. How was I going to function without him? But I picked myself up and decided that I was going to live and do whatever I wanted. That’s when I moved to Florida. I continued with my golf and my dancing and I had so much fun!
How do you start all over in your senior years?
Losing a spouse is hard. But you either sink or swim. I chose to swim. We’d been snowbirds here so I knew the community here. It wasn’t difficult to make the change.
Your granddaughter, Amy, says you’re stubborn—in a good way. Are you?
Let’s say I’m determined. And a little stubborn.
What keeps you energized?
My children. They had wonderful children. I have wonderful grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am so blessed. I do the crossword puzzle, I play mah jong and canasta once a week. I’m missing my game right now! I read about three books a week.
What do you like to read?
For one, James Patterson. I like a good novel.
What advice do you give the younger generations about living a full, good life?
They don’t need any advice from me! They’re living a very good life. They’re active in their community. They have a million friends. They have terrific marks in school. They don’t need any help from me!
So, no words to live by?
You accept the things you can’t change, but try to change the things you can—like the Alcoholics Anonymous [Serenity Prayer]. There are certain things that you just can’t change. For instance, I can’t change that it’s difficult for me to walk now.
Have you always felt this accepting?
I think so. I don’t like butting my head up against the hills that I can’t climb.
Can you give me an example of something you had to work to accept?
Baseball. When I was first married, we had only one television set and my husband would watch every Yankees game. So, I said to myself, you know, instead of bitching about it, let me see what it’s all about. And I became a bigger fan than he was. I’m a New York Yankees fan through and through.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever done?
Bringing up the kids. Hoping they would become responsible human beings.
How did you do it?
By setting a good example, I hope. Learning from my wonderful mother. Trial and error. And Dr. Spock was a great help. [Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote Baby and Child Care, widely considered to be the post-war parenting Bible.]
What goes into raising decent people? Or being one?
Kindness. Thinking about other people before yourself. But caring about yourself, too. That’s right, I think caring about yourself makes you better able to care for other people and be mindful of others.
What experiences should no one miss out on?
Love. Love somebody that cares for you and that you care for. That’s very important.
Top Image: Pictured left to right: granddaughter Amy Greenbaum; Eleanore Carsons; daughter Beth Lurie, and great granddaughter, Brooke Greenbaum.