I am so excited to present the first post in a new monthly series on Galbraith, called Real Gals, in collaboration with a nonprofit that's very close to my heart, GlamourGals. GlamourGals encourages high school and college students to volunteer with the elderly in senior homes across the United States. The elderly are often forgotten and overlooked, and when they are in senior homes, they don't always have family nearby to visit them. GlamourGals volunteers fill that void, helping a part of our society that often feels pretty lonely feel a lot less lonely. The thing that's especially magical is the makeovers themselves: seeing two generations of women interacting and sharing stories. What excitement and energy there is in the room!
Since GlamourGals empowers women of all ages, this series focuses on women of all ages, as well, and the careers and passions that make them who they are. Some are seniors served by GlamourGals, some are advisory-board members for the nonprofit, all have the most wonderful adventures and advice to share.
My biggest goal with Galbraith is to share profiles of inspiring, unique women who aren't afraid to step outside of the box a bit, to be a little different. (To be themselves!) Today, meet Rosalie, 78, who I interviewed at a GlamourGals MegaMakeover on March 26, in upper Manhattan. Rosalie is quick to laugh and she's got a great sense of humor. She's a writer and a poet (her work has been in publications like Cosmopolitan and The New York Times). She's simply the best. Read on for more of her story.
Rosalie Calabrese is a writer, poet, consultant, and a native New Yorker (she grew up in Queens, but lives in Manhattan now). She started writing in high school. She's not quite sure what inspired her to start.
"Don't ask me how or why, it just happened," she says. "In fact, I lost my first boyfriend, who I really thought I was going to marry, because I was pretty serious about the writing, and he thought that wasn't going to be my life. He was going to be a doctor, well, he did become a doctor, and he wanted a doctor's wife, and I wanted to be, what we called then, a bohemian."
Rosalie met her late ex-husband on the first day of classes at City College in uptown Manhattan.
"He was sitting on the steps of one of the buildings, singing Christmas carols," she says. "Now, you know that school starts in September. So that was it [laughs]. I talked to him—I thought he was a nut. He and I did theater together. I had done quite a bit of writing for musicals, and he was a composer. We didn’t really date very much. When I was growing up—I went to college from 1955 to 1959—at that time, lots of people dated, but we ran in groups. We weren’t serious. And we had to get through school. Because we were working together doing theater, even when we were in school, we got closer and closer and finally decided we should [be together]... I’m Jewish, he was Italian. My parents were happy, his parents weren’t. My mother was in love with musicals, my father was an opera lover. They welcomed him openly. His parents wanted a nice Italian girl. My mother-in-law once said to me, 'We don’t care that you’re Jewish, you’re not Italian!' ... We got divorced and then he died. I had a son, who also died. He died nine years ago. So now I have a wonderful granddaughter and her wonderful mother."
Rosalie wrote poems about her son throughout his life, and then, after he died, she compiled the poetry into a book called Remembering Chris, and published it. She still does poetry readings today. This past March, she had a poem in The New York Times, Express Bus 2 a.m., which is about the time she fell asleep on a bus headed uptown after meeting with friends. (Although Rosalie says the Times misleadingly re-titled the poem, and that the bus wasn't in fact an express bus.)
Rosalie worked for an organization called the American Composers Alliance for 32 years. Her last 10 years there, she was the executive director. With the network of hundreds of composers that she knows, this is how she gets clients as a consultant today. She manages and gives advice to young people, and older people who are looking to revive their careers.
Rosalie says that these days, it's easier for women to work, because men participate.
"When I had a baby, my husband wouldn’t have anything to do with it. And I had a full-time job. But we survived. My granddaughter, her parents both worked. But they did share the chores. My son loved to cook, so he hardly let his wife in the kitchen. It was his kitchen [laughs]. He did the shopping and the cooking, and he did laundry. I don’t know why! So that was great. And he enjoyed it all. He even knew how to sew on a machine, he ironed. When you're an only child [like he was], you've got to fend for yourself, because when your mother is not available, you have to figure it out."
As for her thoughts on aging? Well, Rosalie doesn't give it much thought at all. "I pretty much ignore it as much as possible," she says. If anyone is proof that age is just a number, Rosalie is certainly it.
Thank you so much to Rosalie for sharing a bit of her story. To learn more about GlamourGals, visit glamourgals.org. Thank you also to GlamourGals' founder and CEO Rachel Doyle for partnering with Galbraith, and for encouraging me to write this series!
Photographs by Tom Schelling.