Friendship across the generations

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by lorraine duffy merkl

“Millennials,” muttered the man behind me in line at Fairway on 86th Street, questioning the work ethic of the young cashier daring to go on her break and leaving customers to wait all of a minute for her replacement to start ringing up. The impatience with different age groups, of course, flows both ways. How many 20- and even 30-somethings roll their eyes when a Boomer is baffled by technology, specifically social media?

I don’t get the us vs. them. I guess because I’ve always enjoyed the benefits of trans-generational relationships. Aside from friends my own age, I’ve had older companions, whose experience has enlightened me and younger pals who’ve I’ve mentored — as well as learned from.

My mother and daughter, both about 40 years apart from me on either end of the spectrum, are my best examples; my 96-year-old has saved me from myself with her strength, perseverance and wisdom more times than I can count, while my 21-year-old has kept me young by keeping me abreast of what’s au courant, and her feistiness has often awakened in me the go-getter I used to be.

Hence, I read with interest “The Unexpected Connection,” the debut novel by Upper East Side writer, Dena Levin, about two women, separated by generations, who discover they are soul sisters.

Manhattanites both, the unlikely pair meet in West Palm Beach where Michelle, a widow in her fifties, has retired, and Vanessa, a millennial professional, is vacationing solo to regroup after one of life’s double whammies: a breakup she initiated reluctantly with a job-loss chaser.

Michelle would like to help her new, young pal redirect her life, but knows a lecture or gratuitous advice in the form of “and then there was the time” stories are usually all it takes to push people away. Instead, she asks Vanessa for her thoughts on her manuscript, which chronicles Michelle’s dating escapades since the unanticipated loss of her husband.

As the younger woman reads of her mature companion’s transition from grieving widow to mingling single, we too learn about men like The Joker, Another Bad Penny, and Mr. Rude, just to name a few. (You won’t find any of this bunch on those Our Time commercials, where all the silver studs are dashing, trim and apparently list boating as a hobby.)

The book-within-a-book device offers not only comic relief, but insights into Gray Dating, while sparing us chapter after chapter of flashbacks.

Michelle’s social bio becomes Vanessa’s bible for life as well as relationships. She takes away what most people forget: heartache knows no boundaries or, “Single is single,” as Michelle likes to say.

The elder woman’s accounts also seal their friendship deal, showing Vanessa the synchronicity of events both women share. Most importantly, the younger of the two learns by her new mentor’s example to focus on liking herself instead of blaming herself.

When it’s time to return to NYC, Vanessa does so to a new position, and attitude toward her former love. With Michelle’s unofficial life coaching as her resource, it’s now up to Vanessa to implement all she’s learned.

We live in the ultimate melting pot. So many of us are open to inclusion when it comes to races, religions, and nationalities, but stop short when it comes to those in other age groups.

Most of what I know, for example, about where I live on the Upper East Side, is not from books or by taking a tour, but because of my mother who graduated from Yorkville High School, now P.S. 151 Yorkville Community School on East 88th Street.

Her short-term memory may be fading, but she has no trouble recalling her youth when East 86th Street was the heart of “Germantown” with the bakeries, shops, and “new” beer gardens as the social hot spots. Then of course, the post-WWII demolishment of the Third Avenue El along with brownstones and tenements that made way for towering high-rises.

Sound familiar? A stroll around the UES, specifically across the street and around the corner from my building, shows charming old-world townhouses razed to make way for the new and modern.

Including those of other generations into your New York experience offers an inkling of what’s coming, and when it comes to our elders, an idea of whether or not we want to relive what’s past. History and, as shown in “The Unexpected Connection,” relationships have a way of repeating themselves.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Fat Chick” and “Bactk to Work She Goes.”