I have known Cecelia Hurwich—and her remarkable stories—for many years, but until I read her
lively new memoir, 92 and dancing, I didn’t know the half of it. When I first met her, and in fact interviewed her for the wire service I reported for, I knew of her late-in-life Ph.D., her amazing research on the long-lived Hunzakuts in the Himalayas of Pakistan, her expertise on aging. In fact, in the 1990s when I met her in my news bureau in Washington, she had come to participate in the White House Council on Aging.
We had also met through an organization we both belong to, the Society of Women Geographers. Even in that company of highly accomplished and adventurous women, she has always stood out. There, too, I encountered her signature clothing, brilliantly colored, often hand-made or woven, and brought back from some distant, exotic place. And whether at a meeting, a gathering in Washington, or her welcoming home in Berkeley, I, like everyone who meets her, have found her youthful good looks singular.
Now, having read her book, I have much more insight into those aspects of her life I did know—that her love for color and design, for example, grew organically from her one-time career as an interior designer—and, of course, I learned about numerous facets of her life I had no inkling of.
Her early life, for one, is a fascinating tale of its own. The childhood years with her glamorous parents in Harbin, China, where her charming, if roguish, father did business and the family was connected to a circle of wealthy Russian Jews and a cosmopolitan life. The eventual break-up of her parents, and her subsequent life with her mother at her grandmother’s bungalow in Oakland, where she enrolled in first grade speaking Chinese, but no English. And her grandmother, who developed her sense of history—both of her own Russian-Jewish heritage, and her heritage as a child of California.
Cecelia’s college years coincided with the Great Depression, and in her book she chronicles how she learned the value of money—and, with the sounds of swing and jazz, the joy of dancing. Upon graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 1942, she was then called to do what many of her patriotic generation did, and joined the WAVES. Also, like many of her generation, while still in uniform, she married someone in uniform–a Navy officer, named Rudy Hurwich.
In many ways, the next decades of her life parallel the path of her contemporaries—in classic roles of wife and mother. But as she increasingly longed for more, her life began to diverge from the predictable path, and her book delves into myriad world. She shares her ventures into therapy, spirituality, and her increasing love for the transformative power of nature. She becomes a single parent, a business woman, a daring mountain climber, a political activist, and a scholar. She studies the Human Potential Movement at the Esalen Institute, gets a graduate
degree in Holistic Studies from Antioch University West, espouses the values of exercise, and structures her life to strengthen the mind-body-spirit connection.
But even as she cultivates her inner life—and reflects the values of the Bay Area where she lives—she also continues to expand into the world. She travels far and wide, especially to her spiritual “homeland,” India. She nurtures friends, family and love relationships. She continually renews herself, writes her story so far, and keeps on dancing.
Cecelia Hurwich’s rich memoir has something to inspire everyone.