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Here’s To You, Lula! Nanny, Role Model, Friend

Concert pianist Stacey Rose, whose career has brought her throughout the U. S. and to more than eight countries around the world, performed a solo recital at the Center Church on the Green in New Haven, Conn., on April 5. The concert was a tribute to her former nanny, Mrs. Lula Maie Rose, with proceeds going to Tower One/Tower East, the facility at which Lula resides. Stacey wrote the following remarks for the Forward to commemorate the occasion.

My relationship with Lula is somewhat like Huck Finn and Jim: two people whose worlds are radically different and whose hearts are not supposed to connect — yet do. The bond is somewhat taboo in that it does not fall into a typical social category. We have crossed many boundaries to become kindred spirits; our story is one of giving, role reversal and what looks to me like a pure form of love.

I am 40 years old; Lula is 83. Since I was 13 months old, I was raised with the unconditional love of Lula, who stayed with my family for the next 39 years. Nine months ago, Lula moved to New Haven in order to spend her final years with me. Though she has family of her own, I have become her primary caretaker at the assisted living center where she resides, five minutes from my house.

I am a Jewish woman from Denver, living with my husband and three stepdaughters. Lula was the only girl among seven boys born on a farm in Chriesman, Texas. At 6 feet tall, weighing 230 pounds, she is a towering giant next to me, at 5-foot-1 and 106 pounds. Her soft, chocolate-brown skin complements my pale white skin. Her strong faith in the American Methodist Episcopalian church is far from my atheistic beliefs. Her schoolhouse education through eighth grade contrasts with mine at the finest American colleges and graduate schools. Her poverty-stricken upbringing is opposite my affluent one. Yet Lula is far more intelligent than most people I have encountered in my lifetime. She is self-taught and very well-read. She considers herself to be richer than the world’s wealthiest people. I have learned more from this wise and learned woman than from any other person in my life.

Though our lives have been polar opposites on several levels, I have shared an emotional closeness with Lula that I share with no one else. She attended every school graduation, cheered on dozens of my tennis matches, sat through every family bar-mitzvah, proudly beamed in my concert audiences. She walked down the aisle at my wedding; she held me crying in her arms when I divorced. When I have visited her church, I am warmly greeted as her “daughter”; no one seeming to care that I am the only Caucasian in the congregation. She calms my jitters before performances. She listens to my piano playing with the astuteness of a trained musician (often giving her unsolicited critique). She instilled in me the values of hard work, pride and discipline — qualities, she stressed, that should always be balanced with compassion.

At the first sight of me in my crib, she recalls feeling compelled to take care of me. I was reportedly a difficult baby, not taking kindly to strangers. But after a few seconds in her pillowy, mammoth arms, I had apparently found my life’s sanctuary.

Within a year after Lula came to live with my family, both of her parents and her husband died. Her husband’s death was relayed to her by a returned check stamped “DECEASED.” So this single black woman created a new life for herself and assimilated into an upper-class white Denver neighborhood in 1963. My parents have continued to help support her living costs through the years. She is considered part of the family.

Now I am privileged to be able to give back some of what Lula did for me as a child. I bring her to doctor and hair appointments; I do her laundry; I buy her groceries; I help her dress. I spend a significant portion of every day with her — either sitting with her on her bed talking, taking her to do errands or wheel-chairing her to sports and arts events. Lula is my best friend, my mother figure, my confidante, my life’s role model.

Lula has taught me about everything from bucking-bronco roping and quilting to chicken slaughtering. When I’m having a kitchen crisis, I can now receive her cooking advice in person, rather than long-distance, though she usually laughs too hard to bail me out of trouble. We discuss everything from world issues to product downsizing to cosmetic surgery. Her bravery and acceptance of this twilight stage of her life is remarkable.

After I read this “story idea” to Lula, she remarked, “It’s a nice tribute, but it needs editing.”

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