Lifelong Health

Jean Wechsler's story

Neither World War nor pandemic is reason for Jean Wechsler to lose her wit.

Or her wits, for that matter.

The 88-year-old resident of Riverside Healthy Living Community Smithfield tells it like it is with a sharp mind and a sharper comeback.

She shares a story from her days as a supervisor at Army & Air Force Exchange. Done for the day, she sat a bag of trash outside her office door. Collecting her things, she prepared to head down three flights of stairs to the dumpster.

“You DO NOT put trash there,” a voice bellowed.

The hallway carpet, you see, was brand new.

“In fact, I want you to carry it down the stairs,” the voice continued.

“Are you signing my paycheck?” Wechsler quipped.

Taken aback, the man in front of her asked, “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

Wechsler saw the uniform and counted the stars — 1-2-3. He was a three-star general. For a moment, Wechsler almost said, “Aren’t those stars too heavy for you?”

She bit her tongue just this once before explaining the bag was too heavy for her to carry so she’d have to tote it along on the ground. Off she went. She shared the story with her husband, Frank, when she got home, and shrugged that it would probably get her fired. So, it was no surprise when she got the call from a higher-up the next morning to be in his office.

“Did I get an award or something?” she asked to lighten the mood.

Indeed, that general was waiting, but with an apology. He told her his curt tone was no way to talk to a lady, and he added, “Did you ever think of joining the military?”

Back then, today and all those years in between, Wechsler goes about her day with a spirited enthusiasm. She worries little, laughs often and makes others smile along the way.

She moved into the Smithfield Riverside community in 2020 when every news report led with COVID-19. When she saw fear in a neighbors’ eyes, she’d lighten the mood while adding this perspective.

“I was more afraid when I was living during World War II with the Fighting Blackhawks overhead and sirens always going off,” she says. “I used to run upstairs and hide under my bed.”

Decades ago, she comforted the young military wives missing their airmen overseas. Today, she’s quick to step in to offer a moment of lighthearted humor to other residents separated from their families due to coronavirus safety precautions.

The other day, she heard a noise outside her door. Her friend Pat wasn’t having a good day and had dropped for a simple hello.

“I just held her hand,” Wechsler says. “I’m not a nurse or anything, but I hate to see anybody sad. I’m just one person.”

Wechsler likes to say, “Laugh yourself silly and the day goes by faster.” Admittedly, “I’m not honky dory all the time, but you’ve got to keep going. I’m 88 and I’ve decided I might as well stick around until I’m 100.”