There are some past residents of The Hallmark who are still memorable even though they have either died or moved on. We remember them not only for who they were, but for how they handled themselves in this new and strange environment. Their spirit lives on.
Evan was one of the most memorable. She had been a furniture buyer for Macy’s for thirty years, and then a resident at The Hallmark for eight years—into her nineties. Designers still sent her samples of new lines of furniture (old classics too). In her apartment she had a Noguchi coffee table—the famous glass one on its elegant wooden triangular base—and one of the canvas
sling chairs that one sinks into so comfortably at airports and outdoor restaurants. Evan was one of the first to insist on buying the sling chair for Macy’s because, as she would say, “I have an eye.”
She certainly had an eye for clothes. She wore pale suits in soft green, pink or gray and a thin ribbon in her snow-white hair that matched the suit color exactly. She had a quiet, well-bred demeanor. She generally arrived early for lectures and movies, sat in the first row and listened carefully. She was a serious person and kept a sense of her adult business self all the time I knew her. She was dutiful and correct.
She was also a know-it-all, but a wonderful one: someone alive to people and ideas, which is rare enough in the somnolent precincts of an assisted-living facility.
She used her keen eye at The Hallmark, pronouncing the sofas and settees in the living room “shapeless, dumpy, and clunky”. She was dumbfounded when the management changed the chairs around the pool without her knowledge. “The old ones were fine. They fit the fanny and didn’t call attention to themselves.” She thought the new chairs were a waste of money and called the director to say so. “Next time, use your noggin”, she scolded.
When she invited me to her Hallmark apartment, it was crammed with the furniture designers still sent her, although she was 91 years old and had been retired for years. She introduced me to the famous ‘Diamond’ chair that Harry Bertoia, the artist, sculptor and furniture designer, had designed for Knoll, and told me his story. He came to New York from Italy when he was fifteen to visit his older brother, decided to stay, and enrolled in a high school where he studied art and design and learned the art of jewelry making. “This was a young man who knew what he wanted—a great virtue.” “A natural and many-sided artist,” she added with satisfaction.
Besides her fine esthetic sense, Evan had a social sense as well. She had a table for dinner every night with her regulars, unusual for The Hallmark where residents have occasional dinner dates with one or two others a few nights a week but eat in their apartments otherwise. When they take meals in the dining room, they regularly change the arrangements.
This was not the case with Evan. Dinner with her regulars was as strict a duty as complines in a nunnery. She made the rules, she did the inviting, she passed the necessary judgments. Her acolytes were pleased to be chosen and a little terrified too. She invited me once as a temporary fill-in (“Don’t be tardy”), and I remember her saying to one of her group.”Marjorie, that jacket is a little warm for this weather,” and Marjorie bowing her head. She must have known that she was in the wrong because Evan had so decreed.
One wintry evening in the dining room, Evan rushed to the window when she saw a mother go by pushing a toddler. The mother was wearing a wool hat, the toddler had none. Evan knocked on the window to reprove the mother who didn’t hear her, and Evan said, ”If I had my coat I’d go after her. Oh, well.” She was defeated, but only for the moment. She was vital and alert until the day she died and would do battle again.
Evan could be a little outrageous in asserting her opinions, but she was usually right. She said that the step-up to the van was too high for old people, and the management installed a wide rubber step- up so everyone could reach the first step with ease. “How could we have been so lax?” the assistant director asked her.
“Well, you know, I have a fierce eye.”
All of us should be so opinionated.