member of the Greatest Generation, two Baby Boomers, a Generation X couple, a gen-Z kindergartner and a COVID baby walk in to a room…this isn’t a joke, it’s dinner with The FitZack family. With ages ranging from one and half to 98, life at the FitZack home is never dull.
Lillian, 98, lives with her son Arthur, his wife Beverly, her grand-daughter Rachel Zack and husband Jason Fitzgerald, along with great grand-babies Ada (1.5) and Lily (6). Lillian or Bubbie as she is known to all the kids is charming and full of energy. She quickly shared, “I read, knit, and play Mah Jongg.” Her grand-daughter, Rachel, quickly added, “She refuses to play Mah Jongg if it’s not for money!”.
Born in Massachusetts in 1924, Lillian found love in high school. She reflected, “My boyfriend got drafted into the Army. When Morty came home on a three day pass, we got married.” The couple lived together in Orangeburg, NY when Morty was stationed at Camp Shanks. She added, “We lived there until he was transferred to Lake Placid. He played saxophone and clarinet in the Army band. I worked in an office on the base. I got pregnant with our first son and we moved back to Boston after the war.” After the birth of two more sons, the family moved to a suburb of Boston. Rachel continued, “My grandfather worked for the postal service and played music at night. My grandmother was a book keeper. She’s had so many jobs throughout her life.”
After retirement, Lillian and Morty spent 35 years in Florida. Lillian shared, “We were both involved in local theater. Morty was the musical director at our condo and I sang and danced in many of the shows.” They always came back to Boston in the summer to spend time with their three sons and growing families.
Being involved in music and theatre is a family tradition. Beverly attended Boston Conservatory of Music. Rachel continues to work as a Broadway stage manager, and Jason is the Founder/CEO of Kelson Productions, where he is a technical live event producer. Rachel’s sister, Jillian and her husband James Rodgers, also live in New York and are active musicians
When Morty passed 16 years ago, Lillian moved in with Arthur and Beverly in Sherborn, Mass. About the same time, Jason and Rachel met in New York, while working on an off-Broadway production. Jason teased, “It was off, off, off, off Broadway.” After they married, Jason and Rachel lived together in Astoria, Queens.
Rachel explained, “It wasn’t long before we had our first child and thought about moving out of the city.” At the same time, Beverly and Arthur were considering relocating with Lillian to be closer to their daughters. Rachel continued, “We were separately looking at real estate in Westchester, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Jason added, “Rachel was working constantly, nights and weekends.” The family discussed pooling resources and buying a house together. Rachel had previously worked at the Paper Mill Playhouse, liked the area and knew many theatre people already living here. She said, “We found a perfect house for multi-generational living in South Orange with enough bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone.”
Four years in and everyone is enthusiastic about their unique family home. Rachel started with, “Seven people is a lot of grocery shopping. My mom does most of the cooking, but my father and I contribute a couple of nights each week and Jason makes awesome pancakes.” Jason was quick to add, “The little moments the kids can be with the elders is irreplaceable.” Lillian added, “It’s the greatest. I feel very badly for older people who can’t live with their family and have to move to a facility.” Jason smiled and said, “We have the best time with Bubbie. This summer we went to Maplewood during Pride. There was a drag show that night. We ate outside at Coda. Bubbie was wheelchair dancing in the street with her great grand kids. It was a wonderful, evening.”
When I asked Lillian about her great grand-children she was eager to tell me more. Lily (6) is starting 1st grade. She boasted, “She’s very smart, and beautiful.” Jason added, “Lily loves anything to do with space and NASA and aspires to be an astronaut. She’s also a big fan of arts and crafts. She takes ballet at Lydia Johnson Dance, and just started Brazilian Ju Jut Su. Following the family tradition, Lily also takes theater classes with Little Apple Arts.
Ada, (1 ½) was born in November of 2020. Rachel joked, “She’s a covid baby but benefited from our large pod.” Currently Ada loves the local playground, and the town pool.
When asked about experiences thus far in SOMA Arthur said, “It’s a very welcoming community and we have made some good friends”. We enjoy going to see theatre and to Jazz clubs in the city. We have also gone to performances at SOPAC. Beverly continued, “The South Orange library staff is so nice and helpful. They talk to Lillian on the phone and even offered to bring books to the house for her.” Lillian was quick to add, “The Local Yarn Store is a wonderful yarn shop.”
When I asked about the challenges of seven people under one roof, Arthur opined, “It’s a balance you need to strike so everyone gets along. Sometimes we have fun together, other times you have to give each other space. We like to give Rachel and Jason time out for the evening. Beverly and I can also go out and let them take care of my mother. This keeps it fun.” When I asked for tips on multi-generational living, Arthur answered, “You have to keep your sense of humor.” Then he quipped, “Although, Jason is not very funny.”
As we concluded the interview, Lillian summed it up best by saying, “There you have it. Seven people living under one roof”.
Jamie Meier is the photographer and writer of our family cover stories! She is the face and camera behind Live Love Lens Photography® and Live Love Maplewood®. Click below for her website and social media.