“I L-O-V-E life,” purrs Connie Arroyo. “Every day is a gift.”
Smiling, she wraps herself in her white mink (it’s second-hand from Buffalo Exchange), slips her bare feet into a pair of white ankle boots with 3-inch heels and heads for her white Hummer.
She’s 4-foot-10, and the Hummer’s 6-foot-5.
It’s no contest: She conquers the behemoth, climbing behind the wheel like a mountaineer scaling Everest.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” she says. “And I know where to hold on.”
Connie, who favors cashmere sweaters, tights and colorful headbands that strive to restrain her ringlets, started driving the beast regularly after her husband, Sam, died some 15 years ago.
The vehicle was new, he loved it, she loved him; she couldn’t bear to part with either.
Connie’s had a long, exciting life, and she’s done a whole bunch of things, like fearlessly backing her huge Hummer into her pint-sized garage, that will astonish you.
A mother to two and super-cool grandmother to six who has been everywhere, including the Amazon, she’s eager to tell you everything about herself.
Except her exact age.
“If people know how old I am, they will make judgments,” she says, conceding that she is, indeed, well into her eighth decade. “I don’t fit the senior citizen mold.”
So suffice it to say that she’s a singular senior who doesn’t look or act like one.
To begin with, she has a young lover (he’s 16 years her junior).
They met at Astoria Park six months after Sam died.
They started out as friends and became intimate about eight years ago.
“I’ve always enjoyed sex, and I still do,” Connie says. “I celebrate life through sex. I have sex with my lover two to three times a week. He calls himself my sexual healer.”
She adds that she keeps herself in sexual shape with Kegel exercises.
“I started doing them after my daughter was born,” she says. “I worked my way up from 10. Now, I do 100 a day.”
She belly dances. “I wear a costume, but it’s conservative,” she says. “I perform with a seniors group.”
She paints. “I made most of the pictures on my walls,” she says, adding that she did them because she couldn’t afford to buy artwork. “Now, I only paint greeting cards to give to friends and family.”
She takes yoga classes. “I really wouldn’t say I practice yoga,” she says. “I try to do it.”
She beat breast cancer. “I had a bilateral mastectomy 30 years ago,” she says. “I had scoliosis surgery at the same time. I was in a back brace for a year.”
She volunteers at the Astoria Park Alliance. “Up until recently, I was on the board,” she says. “But I figured it was time for someone else to take over.”
She’s counsels others. “I hold group spiritual healings in my living room,” she says, producing her business card that proclaims she is a life coach and energy and spiritual healer.
She walks great distances; the 18 blocks down Ditmars Boulevard to the subway are a piece of cake. “Sometimes I take the bus,” she says. “I used to drive the Hummer to visit my son in Wayne, New Jersey, and Rye, New York, to visit my daughter, but I recently gave that up because my daughter has forbidden it.”
She just got out of the hospital. “I had a recurrence of blood clots in my lungs,” she says. “But I feel fine.”
She feels like she’s 40. “That’s the age when I felt the freest,” she says. “It’s when I blossomed, when I became myself.”
Connie, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, was born in Manhattan, in a year she won’t mention, and was raised in the Bronx.
“At that time, there were drugs all over the place and gang shootings,” she says. “Some of my boyfriends were shot to death.”
She met Sam when they were attending Morris High School.
“I was 15,” she says. “Right away, in my heart, I knew I was going to marry him. It took him longer to realize we were made for each other.”
Five years later, in 1954, after Sam came home from serving as a Marine in the Korean War, they got married and he joined the NYPD, where he rose to the rank of detective.
They moved to Astoria and lived in a two-family home with her parents, the same one Connie now owns.
For a while, Connie stayed home to raise their son and daughter, but when she was in her 30s, she went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Queens College and a master’s degree in education from Hunter College.
“I only took a few courses at a time,” she says, “so it took me 10 years to finish.”
Connie, who by that time was in her 40s, got a job at P.S. 76 in Long Island City, where she spent her career teaching special ed students.
“I made the students believe in themselves,” she says. “I wasn’t teaching them; they were teaching themselves.”
When she retired, she expanded her hobbies and interests, becoming who she is now.
The age thing, she says, that’s just in your head.
OK, sometimes it’s in the body.
By the front door, there’s a cane.
Connie’s lover made it for her from a tree branch that fell in Astoria Park. It’s about a foot taller than she is.
Like her, it doesn’t follow a straight path; it can’t help itself, it curves.
Does she ever use it?
“Not much,” she says, with a look that implies that such aids are for much older, less physically able persons.
“Sometimes it comes in handy when it’s icy,” she admits as she puts it out of sight.
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling