“Don’t fret over life and don’t sweat the small stuff,” if you want to live to 100 years old like Brooklyn-born centenarian Mildred Kirschenbaum. Since her 99th birthday, when a video taken by her daughter Gayle Kirschenbaum went viral, Mildred has been sharing witty one-liners and bits of aged wisdom with over 100,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram. Viewers were taken by Mildred’s bold personality and in awe of how she continues to live life to the fullest at 100, going out with friends, traveling the world, and never missing a happy hour. By popular demand, Mildred and Gayle distilled the advice from hundreds of videos into a self-published book, Mildred’s Mindset: Wisdom from a Woman Centenarian, which is equal parts memoir, photo album, and recipe for a long, happy, and vibrant life.
Mildred and Gayle will celebrate the publication of Mildred’s Mindset at The Lit Salon on March 6th! At this candlelit event inside Maison Brooklyn, a lovingly restored, historic 1890s townhouse, guests will hear live music from The Brownstone Trio and sip on The Cosmonaut, a twist on one of Mildred’s favorite cocktails, the Cosmopolitan, using a recipe by famous cocktail bar owner Sasha Petraske. Mildred and Gayle will speak with Untapped New York Founder and author Michelle Young, take questions from the audience, and sign books. Can’t make it in person? Join virtually!
Lit Salon: Mildred’s Mindset
Mildred was born in 1923 to Polish and Lithuanian immigrants in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Her childhood was dotted with tragic events including the death of her infant sister to pneumonia – years before penicillin was discovered – and the attempted suicide of her father, who wanted to help his family overcome the financial troubles of the Great Depression with his life insurance money. “Life is like a deck of cards, some of them are good and some are not,” Mildred told Untapped New York from her current home in Florida. Despite these early hardships, Mildred exhibited a ferocious zest for life that she’s carried throughout the past century.
When Mildred was just 17, she met Gerry Kirschenbaum, a handsome red-haired, blue-eyed boy whose family ran a well-known local funeral home. Less than a year after they met, World War II broke out. Right before Gerry was shipped out to serve overseas, the young couple eloped. Upon his safe return, the couple started to build their family. They would eventually move to Long Island, raise three children, and be married for 64 years.
As a mother in the 1950s and 60s, Mildred took on some unconventional duties. Not only did she take care of typical housewife responsibilities, but she also managed the family’s finances and was handy around the house. Despite being on a budget, she never compromised her style. To stay on trend, she frequented Loehmann’s, a local Brooklyn store that sold designer pieces at a discount. (The building that once housed Loehmann’s in Crown Heights, now a church, was recently used as a filming location for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where production recreated a Horn & Hardart automat.) She still loves to be fashionable, often showing off her fit on social media.
In the 1970s, Mildred turned her love for travel into a career and opened a travel agency. She told Untapped New York that her favorite place to travel to is the French Riviera, for the pretty beaches. Her passion for exploration is something that has stuck with Mildred all her life. She’s been across the globe from India to South America, going on African safaris and sailing on transatlantic voyages. When we spoke with Mildred and Gayle, they were preparing for a week-long cruise through the Caribbean. They reminisced on an 18-day sail they recently took through Europe and across the Atlantic. “We took the Titanic route, but we survived,” Mildred boasted.
Midlred’s Mindset is dotted with sassy quips such as this. They reveal her no-holds-barred attitude and the sharp wit she has to this day. Entertaining anecdotes from throughout her life paint the picture of a woman who can make friends anywhere and who lives without the fear of judgment. No matter what anyone else has to say, Mildred wears what she wants, does what she wants, goes where she wants (she still drives!), and says what she wants.
The book closes with twenty tips for how to live a long and fulfilling life. In the book, Mildred speaks on all aspects of life, from the importance and etiquette of happy hour – “I make new acquaintances and have interesting conversations. I stay away from talking politics because that is a thorn in everyone’s side” – to investing – “I always buy the utility of where I reside because it pays a dividend….We all always need electricity.” These pieces of advice are both philosophical and practical, pulled from Mildred’s lived experiences.
One of the biggest lessons Mildred and Gayle learned together was that of forgiveness. “When I was 99 years old, I realized I was a mean mother to Gayle,” Mildred writes in the book. Their fraught mother-daughter relationship is a subject that Gayle, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker/TV producer/writer/speaker/photographer, and forgiveness coach, has explored in her work, most notably the critically acclaimed documentary Look at Us Now, Mother! which chronicles their journey to forgiveness. “Don’t put off saying you are sorry until tomorrow,” Mildred writes, “Tomorrow may never come.”
“We argue every day, but we never get angry,” Mildred says of their relationship now. “We have the kind of relationship where we can scream at each other and hang up, then call back five minutes later and talk about something else. We never hold a grudge,” echoes Gayle.
Sharing Mildred’s knowledge with the world, “It’s a collaborative effort,” Gayle says. While Gayle lives in the West Village and Mildred lives on her own in South Florida, the two have spent most of their time together since the pandemic. They travel the globe with each other and go on frequent happy hour outings, which they document on Instagram. When she’s back in New York, Mildred likes to visit the museums and frequents the Italian restaurant Malaparte.
For the times when they were apart, Gayle taught Mildred how to shoot her own videos. Mildred then sends the footage to Gayle to edit and upload. Together they have created hundreds of videos where Mildred discusses everything from her own mortality to how to prepare your home before you go away on a trip. These videos have garnered attention from mainstream media outlets, like The Today Show, and celebrities including the singer Jax, who wrote a bespoke song for Mildred and then brought her onstage at a concert where 20,000 people sang “Happy Birthday.”
When we asked Mildred what she hopes people take away from her story she told us it’s all about your attitude. “You need to make the best of it and move on. I use this phrase all the time, yesterday’s gone, today’s is here, tomorrow you don’t know what will be.”
Meet Mildred and Gayle at our upcoming Lit Salon on March 6th! Untapped New York Insiders get free access to the livestream.
Lit Salon: Mildred’s Mindset
Can’t make it in person? Join virtually!
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