Muriel B. The beloved, independent lady who lived in a beautiful apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan with her little “New Yorkie”, Tiger, is gone at the age of ninety seven and a half. New York will never be the same. You all made her life so rich. Now that it is at an end, here is how twitter’s “@QuiltingMuriel” came to be.
Summer 2010: There she was in Riverside Park, a lovely white haired woman, gaily dressed, with big earrings, sitting on her scooter while working a large puzzle book. Her little Yorkie stared intently at where the squirrels were sure to come, because the woman had a large bag of peanuts in the scooter’s basket. I happily thought, “This is what I’ll be when I’m seventy”. When we started chatting, I discovered she was 92. Amazing. Amazing! (She always said I used that word too much.) She had freedom, mobility, charm, opinions (oh yes), and a dog. She lived independently with the help of a fantastic part time aide named Jean. Once again, I had met a smart, vibrant older woman who had long days and nights to fill, with most of her friends gone, and who had so much life left inside. I seemed to collect them.
I have Helen in L.A., now 83. I had Dottie, my L.A. neighbor, who had such a zest for life, when she died at 86, there were two tickets to “Lord of the Dance” for that Saturday night, waiting on her kitchen table.
And then there was Muriel. We became great friends. She was always lonely when I went back to L.A. She was adept at email and the internet (she once rebuilt her own hard drive), so I had an idea. “I’ll open a twitter account for you. If you use hashtags, you can find like- minded people talking about anything and everything that interests you”. So began twitter’s popular account, “@QuiltingMuriel”.
She never tweeted. “I’m too busy.” She was. She filled her days with classes, quilting, visitors, manicures, baking, taking Tiger to the park, doing all her own paperwork, etc. etc. But she’d get lonely and sad, and I still believed twitter could help alleviate that. So I started tweeting for her, to show her how it was done. Still, she never tweeted. I continued to tweet “QuiltingMuriel”, hoping she’d fall in, as I channeled Dottie and Helen and Muriel and every other senior I had the pleasure, and frustration, of knowing. Helen was the loving mother, malaprop prone, “Gracie Allen” voice. Dottie was the sharp, no nonsense voice, and Muriel was the savvy, lifelong New Yorker, with smart, sensible, Democratic values. All of their mothers marched for the vote for women. They themselves fought for civil rights, human rights, worked their whole lives, raised children, missed their departed husbands, were progressive and open minded, loved dogs. All of them were admirable, and there are millions more like them who stand alone at gatherings and parties and are passed by unnoticed, a lifetime of knowledge and experience just waiting to be shared, yet ignored, by younger people who have no idea what richness they are missing.
Muriel never learned to tweet. I was about to close the account when I realized how much people were responding to its humor, kindness, positivity. I loved the people who tweeted to “Muriel”. And then I discovered an even greater social experiment, if you will.
As a comedian of 43 years, people have decided they “know” me. When, in my own twitter account, I tweeted about gun control, or being pro-choice, or anything politically charged, or things that were uplifting and loving, the trolls came out in force and dismissed and dissed me instantly. When I tweeted the exact same sentiments for Muriel in much the same way, people wrote “Preach!” and “So true!” and “Tell it!” Wow. In accidentally holding this mirror up to society, I found a little bit of hypocrisy, and a whole lot of seeing people blinded by their pre-conceived notions. What a discovery. I never had a loving family, I left home at sixteen. A darling regular, who always called “QuiltingMuriel” “Nana”, and whom I came to adore, tweeted: “Nana, who will you be voting for?” I’m sixty -three, I felt qualified to answer. In answering the questions of people decades younger in a loving and kind way, I finally got the mother I never had; me. And I got to be that mother for others who needed one too. So in trying to give Muriel the gift of being valued and cherished, in her refusal to tweet, she ended up giving that gift to me, and to “her” followers, instead. She was the smartest woman I ever met. Amazing.
Muriel grew to love reading the account, though she never tweeted, and we never told anyone, not even her family. Only the wonderful Jean knew. And our great friend and Muriel’s dear sewing teacher, Judy Isaacs. When the agents at CAA discovered the account and had Muriel and me (and Jean) up for a meeting about a book based on the account, we had to tell them the truth too. Other than that, I stood way back and let Muriel bask in her new found glory. She was happily “@QuiltingMuriel”, I was happy to let her be, and go along with her to all the wonderful events that came “@QuiltingMuriel’s” way. (Thank you to the magnificent Audra McDonald, and Holland Taylor, who brought so much joy into Muriel’s life these past few years. Thank you to the authors who sent Muriel their books from all over the world. How wonderful. Thank you for the yearly birthday wishes, and funny stories, and daily weather reports from around the globe. Thank you. Thank you.) Muriel was incredibly charming, delightful, adorable; people loved meeting her. And she indeed could have tweeted that account if she wanted to, but she baked the cookies and I did the writing.
I hope you will remember “@QuiltingMuriel” for the positive, loving, uplifting gesture it was meant to be. I will tweet “@QuiltingMuriel” no more. I couldn’t, with Muriel gone. This is a heartbreaking day. I am flooded with sadness. In honor of Muriel, please try to see the gray ghosts among us; at a party, at the market, in a store, museum, sitting in the park. They see you. They are so rich in life to be shared. Remember Muriel; her spirit, her generosity, her life spent fighting on the right side of history. Remember her joy in living, her ability to embrace everything that came her way until the age of 97. I’ve never seen anyone enjoy Mallomars with more childlike delight. Or chocolate, or peanut brittle. She was infuriating. I’d bring these delicious gifts all the way from L.A., and she wouldn’t share! Yet she did so much to help us rescue animals, making magnificent quilts for my Tails of Joy to sell so we could save more needy, homeless dogs and cats.
She will be missed by so many, especially dear little Tiger. My heart is breaking. People always tweeted to “@QuiltingMuriel”, “I hope I can be you when I get old”. Why wait? You can be her now. I was.