Four years into century two

Christine Cordey was impressed that she had just turned 104.
“I can’t believe that,” the former beautician said, smiling softly and scratching her chin.
Cordey is the oldest resident at Regal Heights Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, a skilled nursing and rehab facility in Jackson Heights. Though she is not the oldest to have ever lived at the facility, Cordey is much more independent than the woman who still holds the title, explained Betsy Lazarus, the Center’s director of therapeutic recreation.
“She is our grandmother – our great-grandmother. Christine is the heart and soul of Regal Heights. Everyone watches out for her. And she has some favorite male aides,” Lazarus said with a laugh, noting that Christine puts on makeup everyday in addition to reading the newspaper and wheeling herself around the Center.
Cordey rummaged through her purse, took out a comb and lipstick and began brushing her silver hair.
Sitting next to Cordey, who fixated occasionally on items in her purse, Lazarus explained that at 104, Cordey is “very much in the moment. Very present.”
But even so, Cordey appeared to take pleasure in lapsing back in time, occasionally resting a hand on her chin or shielding her eyes as if blocking out the light, the now, would enable her to remember her past.
“I lived in a big house with a big yard,” Cordey said of her childhood in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
“I had one brother. I’m trying to think if I still have my brother. I still kind of remember,” she said, a faint smile fanning across her face in the delicate wrinkles of someone who has lived over a century.
Cordey said her brother’s name was Peter and that he was three years younger than she was.
“His hair was wavy,” she said, laughing as she remembered.
And her mother’s name was Annie.
“I know she had nice hair,” Cordey said, recalling the important people in her life through the crowns on their heads. It was as if she was still in her beauty salon on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, still running her fingers through her baby brother’s wavy locks or still sitting on her mother’s lap listening to a story.
“She just enjoys sitting around with people,” Lazarus said, explaining that Cordey often wheels herself into the recreation room or into one of the social workers’ offices for a chat.
“I guess that’s what made her a hairdresser,” she said.
Before coming to Regal Heights in June of 2003, Cordey lived on her own in a second floor apartment on 80th Street in Jackson Heights but she enjoys the social atmosphere at Regal Heights, coming down to the first floor for bingo and parties.
On Thursday, March 13 Cordey ventured downstairs to the recreation room for her own party, attended by State Senator John Sabini and around 40 other people. At one point Cordey drifted off, but she awoke in time to thank everyone for coming and a few days after her party she was still relishing in her moment.
“Everybody wrote me,” she said, smiling as she looked over a birthday card covered in notes from well-wishers.
Born in 1904, Cordey has lived through the Great Depression, a couple of World Wars and eighteen presidents. Calvin Coolidge?
“Yes, that name I remember easy,” Cordey said.
“Once in a while we take a walk through history,” said Donna Pantopolos, an admissions social work assistant at Regal Heights with whom Cordey likes to spend time.
While Pantopolos and Lazarus wondered with awe at what Cordey must have experienced in her long life, Cordey kept scratching her head and smiling, remembering what she’d lived through, laughing at a hairdo long gone, smiling at a memory peaking above the surface of her mind.

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