She was born October 29th, 1912. This Sunday would be her 105th birthday.
This tribute is not so much because I remember her life, it’s because others, except for a handful, do not. So, it is fitting that she be offered some degree of recognition, because by the time I die, there will be no one left in this world who knew her and her memory will vanish with the ashes.
Born in Chicago in 1912 the younger of two daughters to Anna and Carl Peterson, Frances was a beautiful child of 100% Norwegian heritage who grew to become a strikingly beautiful woman. Through her childhood, her parents saw a glow of natural talent within her as she, and her older sister were ushered into the world of performing arts, excelling equally.
Not only did Frances evolve into an accomplished dancer, she studied classical piano and voice (mezzo soprano) for many years. Not a day went by, through her entire life, that she didn’t practice music at least four hours.
Her greatest of all satisfactions was moving to New York City in the 1930s where she became an active member of the new (and now famous) dance ensemble The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall for over fifteen years. As the later years passed, she worked at teaching dance in New York City until her late 80’s, weathering the trek into Manhattan, back and forth, from Forest Hills, Long Island, by walking and using subways every day.
Yes, Frances could drive. But she put the car keys away and never again touched the wheel of a car after a tragic accident during a vacation to Maine in 1952. Frances was driving with her mother in the front seat and her father in the back of a brand new 1952 Ford when she crossed a narrow temporary bridge over a river. The car slipped and went into the water, backside first. She and her mother managed to get out through open windows. Carl, her dad, at 6’4”, was trapped in the back seat.
From that time on, Frances lived a life devoted to her mother, plus her music and dance, never marrying nor having children.
As she aged, living alone in a six-story tenement, I asked her to consider moving to an assisted living facility where she could have instant care when necessary and all her needs met. A fiercely independent woman, she adamantly refused.
On a cold January day in 2003, after neighbors realized they hadn’t seen her for five or six days, the apartment manager broke the lock and found her lying deceased on the bathroom floor. We don’t know if she died immediately, of she lay there for days, suffering. It was a sad end to a long and eventful life.
Her older sister, Vivien, did marry and bore two boys who would become Frances’ nephews. She was a caring and devoted aunt, often spending long hours with both of them, sharing her talents and wonderful sense of humor. Sadly, the older boy died by drowning in Flushing Bay at age seven.
In the end, Frances had brought much joy to the people of New York City with her artistic talents. She unselfishly cared for her own mother, who suffered from dementia, on a daily basis until she passed at age 98. Frances left no close family members behind to remember or appreciate her contributions to planet Earth. Except one, that is. So, the least he could do is celebrate her 91 years of life with fond remembrance.
Happy Birthday, Aunt Frances.