In racing, it’s someone who overcomes all obstacles to reach the winner’s podium. But in life, it’s someone who, with love and encouragement, champions us through adversity, helping us overcome our obstacles and become our best.
Natalie Gelman was born in the old West Village of Manhattan, the stomping ground of songwriting greats. When she was 16, she borrowed a friend’s guitar and began busking on subway platforms; tired of pretending to be 21 to play clubs in the city. So how does a teenager get that sort of confidence?
“My mother was raised to be resourceful and independent,” Natalie says “and she passed these lessons on to me.”
Finding Your Artistic Freedom
Anna Enders grew up in New York City, the daughter of two tough-minded German parents who had fled to the United States at the outbreak of World War II. As a result, she developed a feisty and opinionated outlook “Mom was a real New Yorker. She didn’t give a hoot about what others thought of her.”
That freedom allowed her creativity to blossom as an artist specializing in sculpture and acrylic painting. It also gave her the confidence to build a career as a full-time art teacher at some of New York’s toughest, inner-city high schools. Soon she would meet Natalie’s father, who was a music teacher. “I grew up in a very bohemian household. My parents fell in love right away, but didn’t feel it important to marry for almost 20 years.”
But while Anna may have been a free-spirited artist, as a parent, she was practical and always frugal, teaching Natalie early on the value in learning how to repair buttons and sew socks.
When Natalie was 5, the family bought a ramshackle home on Staten Island. “Rather than hire a gardener we’d go around back at Franks Nursery and Mom would have me do dumpster dives to pick up orphaned fruit trees, shrubs and flowers. And then she’d bring them back to life. She was a wizard in the garden.”
“You just know something’s wrong because things are in the wrong places.”
Natalie first noticed something was off when she arrived back to the family home after an extended tour playing college campuses. She found an eviction notice on her bedroom door; another on her sister’s bedroom door. “It was mom’s way of pushing us away as she started her descent into dementia.”
Anna Enders and her daughters
Over the next few years there were subtle changes until one cold winter’s day Natalie was lunching with a friend when her mother strolled by in shorts, maryjane shoes and a thin fleece top; seemingly unaware of the temperature.
“You want to reassure them that it’s going to be okay, but it’s really not going to be okay,” she says. “As you come to grips with the progression of the disease, you just want to enjoy the moments you have left with them in any way possible.”
As Anna continued her decline, Natalie and songwriter Jessica Leigh Graves got together to write a song and talk quickly turned to family. They learned they had something in common. “Both Jessica and I had family who went through the disease. “We wrote The Lights Upstairs for my mom” says Natalie. “I wanted to share something uplifting with the sentiment that the memories she was losing wouldn’t be lost forever because I would hold them in my heart.”
The Lights Upstairs written by Natalie Gelman and Jessica Leigh Graves
Music video by Madeline Yee from BumbleBeeble
Who was your Champion? A parent? Grandparent? Spouse? If you would like to honor their memory please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org so we may feature your story here and on our Facebook page.
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