The last time I spoke with my new bff, Laura Kruskal, back in April, she told me she’d soon be heading back East (she lives in Princeton but had been visiting her son here in Taos for the past six months) because she had some upcoming teaching commitments there. The first of those commitments, she said, was a gig in New York at the American Museum of Natural History on May 3rd. Another was the annual origami convention in New York at the end of June.
It turns out that my friend Laura, known to her huge circle friends and admirers as “Lauragami,” is an internationally known and respected expert in origami, the ancient art of paper-folding, and, along with her late mother-in-law, Lillian Oppenheimer, a founding member of the nonprofit educational organization now known as OrigamiUSA. It is OrigamiUSA, housed in the American Museum of Natural History, that hosted the May 3rd event in New York, where Laura taught her “Easy to Assemble Heart Crown” – the same heart crown she created while here in Taos and taught to Taos Pueblo school children this past Valentine’s Day. At the June 27 – 30 OrigamiUSA convention in New York, Laura will present a new “Convention Crown,” as she’s been doing every year for well over twenty years.
Oh, did I mention that my friend Laura Kruskal will be turning 91 years old next Sunday, June 15th? This post is my way of broadcasting my happy birthday wishes to her.
I had the good fortune of meeting Laura last October when I was returning to Taos after a visit to New York, and Laura was on her way to her son’s place just outside of Taos in Arroyo Seco. (“He lives next door to Julia Roberts’ home!” she proudly announced to all of us in the shuttle van.) Like everyone else who crosses her path, no doubt, I was immediately smitten by her vibrancy (she practically glows), her spontaneity and creativity (she gave some of us on the van an ad hoc lesson in making an origami envelope), and her self-sufficiency (she was traveling cross-country all alone, and planned to do the same on her return trip).
Without intending to, just by being herself, Laura Kruskal manages to shatter all of one’s existing stereotypes about what a woman her age should be or do.
At the time she and I met, I was doing research for a book I was planning on “the fine art of aging.” Laura, having just finished teaching at an origami conference in Albuquerque, wearing a big smile and a rhinestone-studded pin reading “I [HEART] ORIGAMI” looked to me like a glittering godsend. So we quickly made a date to get together as soon as we could so I could interview her.
Sitting side by side on the plush sofa in her son’s sunny living room, with a glorious view of majestic Taos Mountain from the wide, floor-to-ceiling windows, I wasted no time in asking Laura my main, burning question: How do you manage to stay so vibrant?
“I think it’s very important to stay focused on something you love to do every day,” she said softly, smiling brightly. For her, clearly, that “something” is origami. She strives to create at least one new, original origami fold every day of her life. And, when she’s home in Princeton – where she’s lived in the same house for sixty years and still does her own housework and cooking — she is often called on to teach origami in schools, libraries, retirement homes, at birthday parties, and even in prisons. “I stay busy,” she said. “And origami makes me happy. I love what I do.”
Some time after the 2006 death of her husband of 56 years, Martin David Kruskal, who was a renowned Princeton University professor of mathematics and physics, Laura attended a lecture in Princeton on aging gracefully. “They stressed that it’s as important to exercise the synapses of the brain as it is to exercise the muscles,” she told me. For her, the three takeaway points of that lecture were:
1) Play a musical instrument. (She plays the piano every morning.)
2) Learn a foreign language. (She’s studying Japanese at the moment.)
3) Do something creative every day. (She has her origami.)
But origami is hardly a new, post-retirement pastime for Laura. It has been her passion for more than six decades.
She likes to tell this story: In her youth she held a degree in biology and chemistry from NYU and worked at Belleview Hospital Medical School preparing histological slides. During her lunch hours she enjoyed visiting the children’s ward, where she would sit in on sessions being given to “the handicapped children.” She was so impressed by the work being done for them — and the need to reach them — that she returned to school to earn a master’s degree in special education from Hunter College. Since then, she has not only taught origami to people of all ages and abilities in countries around the world, she has developed new techniques for teaching origami paper-folding to blind and other disabled persons.
Long ago, at a church on Fifth Avenue in New York, I heard a rousing sermon titled “Attitude is Everything.” Laura Kruskal makes me recall that minister’s inspirational words. She is the personification of positive attitude. Despite a few disabilities of her own (one blind eye, one deaf ear, one sore back), she remains upbeat. “I never get depressed,” she told me sincerely. “I’m never unhappy. No matter what.”
Happy 91st Birthday, Lauragami! And many more.