When Molly Gelb’s husband died early last year, she didn’t break down.
She tore down.
She removed nearly every wall in the living room and kitchen of their apartment, which also serves as the nerve center of their business, LL Overhead Garage Doors, so she could build herself up again.
She also removed her wedding band, replacing it with the gold and onyx ring her soul mate always wore.
“It’s my way of taking him with me wherever I go,” she says, looking at the oval stone that’s as big as a bird’s egg.
Molly, a tall, elegant woman of 70 whose black carefree curls have only recently been betrayed by strands of silver, had been with her one-and-only love, Louie Lauri, for 45 wonderful years.
She was 24 and he was 42 when they met on a blind date at a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, so there was a vague expectation right from the start that Molly might have to carry on alone someday.
But dementia’s a demon, and they were blindsided when it began chipping away at Louie’s mind.
Louie, who suffered a stroke in 2016, never left the rehab center.
By the time he passed away in January 2018 at age 88, Molly was enjoying retirement.
She had a varied and interesting career.
After graduating from Flushing High School, Molly took a job at a printing company.
“I didn’t get along with school, but they sent me to Cooper Union to learn drafting, and I loved it,” she says.
By the time she and Louie locked eyes, she was working as a sales historian for Paramount Pictures, recording dollar-data for syndicated shows like Star Trek.
Immediately, Molly and Louie became inseparable.
Louie, who was a divorced dad, was in possession of a two-bedroom apartment with an ample walk-in closet.
A year after they met, Louie invited Molly to move in.
“He told me I could have half the closet,” she says. “He didn’t realize that I had been bringing my clothes over piece by piece and hanging them up in there. We ended up living together for 39 years before we got married.”
One thing led to another, and they bought a two-family house in Astoria.
Molly’s parents took the upstairs unit, and Molly and Louie and LL moved into the first floor.
Louie had established LL in 1956, long before he met Molly.
While he worked out of their home, Molly commuted to Manhattan, where she worked for Estee Lauder then Coty before retiring in 2013.
She set up a simple life for herself.
“Once I didn’t have to go to work, I stayed up late, slept late and filled in my time with knitting and crocheting,” she says. “I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on at LL.”
In 2016, when Louie’s decline began, Molly started running the company, which has four employees, including Louie’s son-in-law.
“I didn’t know a spring from a cable,” she says. “I thought about selling it, but I wanted to keep Louie’s legacy alive because he put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the business.”
Molly spends about four hours a week on LL matters, letting the crew run the day-to-day operations.
“I don’t butt in, but I want the employees to know that I take an interest,” she says.
The rest of her time is devoted to her cats, Sammy and Little Molly; her piano playing; and her knitting and crocheting.
This winter, she’s been making gloves, mittens and blankets, stitching to the sounds of blaring music, everything from Beethoven to Cardi B.
“I’m carrying on my mother’s tradition,” she says, showing off a shawl her mother, Betty, made 60 years ago for a bar mitzvah.
Molly’s renovation gave her space to remember Louie properly.
“He’s always in my thoughts,” she says, adding that she visits his grave frequently. “I think of him every day. There are times when I’m sitting at the island in the kitchen that I can still picture Louie coming down the hall. Nearly everything here reminds me of him.”
She put her desk in the same spot that his occupied and decorated a table in the hallway with photos of Louie in his younger years.
“His karma is still here and always will be,” she says.
As for her life, Molly sees no reason to alter anything else.
“I want to keep LL open as long as possible,” she says.
And that’s likely to be a very long time; Betty lived to be 102.
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