By George Castle, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Decades before Susan Good became a women’s networking maven and “21st century grandmother,” she knew full well one got more with honey than vinegar.
Never closed-minded, downtown Chicago resident Good was “always a very curious person.” She continually gazed far beyond her personal horizons.
That’s why she termed her Illinois hometown “Kankakee by the Sea,” wondering what was at the end of the Kankakee River. Decades later, proud of her Judaism and support of Israel but always wanting to discover more, her world travels took her to Syria and Iran. Her sociability made her a Jewish activist in Hawaii just four months after she arrived to live in the paradise of the 50th state.
Now in her 70s, Good, known to her admirers as “Honey,” is upping her activity quotient as author, blogger, journaler and moderator for older women who fear they have become “invisible” due to age and appearance.
And in the process, Good hopes to connect people, to get them away from their hypnotic smart phones, to boost interpersonal relationships and to provide a sense of personal history. Her philosophy was best summed up by the opener of her new book, “Stories for My Grandchild,” a combination love letter and outline for grandmothers to hand down family and personal history to their descendants:
“You are Grandma, Gigi, Nonna, Yaya, Mimi, Abuelita, Geema, Meeme or in my case, Honey…With the gift of this journal, your grandchildren will know you for more than your kisses and comfort. They will learn about your family through your stories and, more importantly, about the values they will hand down through future generations.”
Good provides an outline for readers to fill in – allowing each grandmother to write about her own childhood talents, dreams and struggles, along with teen-age crushes and older dating.
So why does Good increase her activity level at an age where so many others are slowing down in retirement?
For one, she refuses to fade away and feel unseen and unappreciated like many of the women she has met in her networking group MOXIE! (bemoxienow.com), connected to her increasingly popular HoneyGood.com web site. Good couldn’t fade into the background if she tried. When not spending part of the winter in Palm Springs, she can be seen strolling down Michigan Avenue in a rainbow-hued overcoat walking her soft-coated Wheaten terrier America.
“I have always lived outside the box,” Good said. “I’ve always tried everything that most people would never try. That’s because of my curiosity and love of life.
“I’ve been inventing myself since I was a little girl. In my 60s, I really re-invented myself. The trigger was that I was feeling bored even though I was busy all day. I was not enjoying my busy-ness. I feel grateful for everything, even seeing a little hummingbird in a tree.”
A writer named Gail in Palm Springs encouraged Good to keep a daily journal more than a decade ago, as a means to find her voice. Already, she felt her strength was as a “people person” and “problem solver.”
Over time, Good’s journal developed into a blog. She’d eventually hit a cord with older women, drawing more than 200,000 followers. Her experiences drew out similar emotions from women, who began to respond in kind.
“I’ve lived, I’ve laughed, I’ve suffered, I’ve enjoyed, I’ve triumphed, I’ve been scared, I’ve been angry,” she said. “What I do with all these feelings is I write for women over 50 who are bleeding the way I bleed. They may not live my lifestyle, but they have my feelings.
“The biggest problem with women over 60 I have found is women feel invisible. They’ve become empty-nesters, they’ve retired, they’ve left their communities for new homes or have downsized. They’ve lost their looks and America is built on looks.
“But I feel very visible because I feel relevant in my head. The first thing that happens (negatively in aging) with a woman is her looks and with a man it’s retirement.”
Good’s writings about being a grandmother of 25 in a blended family – she first married Michael Forman, was widowed young and now has been wedded to Shelly Good for 27 years – provided her springboard to writing.
Good’s blog was ranked near the top of Feedspot’s list of top 75 Baby Boomer Blogs. HoneyGood.com has also been awarded GRAND magazine’s Best GRANDparents Website/ Blogger Award. She has written for The Huffington Post and the Sun-Times national news network and has contributed to SixtyandMe.com, Medium.com, thirdAge, GRAND magazine, Prevention and Redbook.com.
Eventually she set up networking groups in different subjects via HoneyGood.com.
The long-term goal is to morph from the disembodied connections of the Internet to live groups across the country.
“Women need women,” said Good. “In person, live. People are very lonely.”
Good crossed the border between the sketchy, as shallow-as-bathwater connections of the internet and actual old-fashioned live gatherings with an initial meeting of seven women at her Palm Springs winter home. In the old days, the confab would have been called a coffee klatsch. But the gathering had much more modern sensibilities.
“One of the women was very popular, and she has a beautiful life, and would have been the cheerleader in high school,” Good said. “Out of the blue she said, ‘I feel invisible.’ I said to myself, ‘Oh my G-d, the only time I think of that word is Casper the (Friendly) Ghost.’ I never think of the word (invisible). It’s not in my vocabulary. And then the six other women also said they were invisible. They were college graduates, accomplished. It was their looks.
“I said if you went into the shoe department, would you be waited on last? And they said yes. The women discussed this and I was mesmerized. We all parted. I kept thinking about this word. Living outside the box, I picked up the phone and called 10 women. No one turned me down and I started my first group. It’s starting its fourth year in November in California.
“I run the group. We discuss every topic imaginable.”
Age discrimination is in the mix. Good would not be a practitioner if she was in business.
“If I ran a company, I would hire older people and it’s not because I’m older,” she said. “It’s because they are wiser. I think younger people today are not tuned in. Younger people don’t live in the real world. They live with their phones and computers. Many are not worldly at all. Their reach is not broad. People don’t realize multi-generational groups are fabulous.”
Good knows because she put a Millennials-through-seniors group together last October in her Chicago home. Women ranging in age from 28 to 97 gathered, and garnered publicity from the New York Times.
“I made sure no one was best friends,” Good said in contacting the women. “Most did not know each other. I was the common denominator. I wanted different socio-economical groups, from all walks of life.”
Self-made women such as an immigrant hair-salon operator and dog-sitter/walker were represented. Also in the mix were a politician, a marketing executive. Oldest attendee was Good’s mother, Elaine Lang, 97.
“I said I know you are all here for me and I want to thank you,” Good said, asking all attendees to introduce themselves. “Two and one-half hours later, I had to break up my group. The young were so interested in what the older women had to say. They were so happy to learn. The older women were so interested in the younger women.
“I believe in my groups. Men should have groups. Men need men. It’s harder for men.”
By now, Good had made some waves. The sum total of her writing and networking led Abrams Books in New York to contact Good with an offer of a book.
“How often does that happen?” she said. “Never! I was not looking to write a book. It came to me. It was a blessing, a mitzvah.
“One of their editors went on line, and she was looking for a grandmother to write a book. She was looking for a hip, 21st century grandmother who lived outside the box, who had all these experiences and wrote about it, but always walked on the sunny side of the street. She chose me out of all the blogs on-line.
“The co-authors of my book are the grandmothers (who buy it). Abrams wanted me to write all the prompts for a journal for a grandmother to fill in her life story to leave to her grandchildren, to pass on to their children. The grandmother customizes the book.”
Good could over-stuff her own book with family and life details.
Grandfather Paul Lang had a “very good name” in the tight-knit Jewish community in Kankakee, 60 miles south of Chicago, she said. “He was very philanthropic. He passed that down to his five sons and in turn they passed it down to the 14 grandchildren. If you feel something deeply, you find a way to make it happen.
“He wanted a new synagogue in Kankakee. It was in the 1950s. My grandfather had walked across Europe at a young age, like many Jews. He arrived in Kankakee because he had a cousin there. He lived there all his life. He believed in being a Jew. He always sat in the second row, the first seat, in synagogue.
“At Chanukah, my grandfather rented the ballroom at the Hotel Kankakee. He would invite other Jews who couldn’t afford to go anywhere.
“He took me to my first fundraiser at age six. I gave a quarter and each year thereafter, I raised my little pledge to eventually becoming a Lion of Judea.”
Eventually marrying and having her own family, Good and her first husband thought for years about moving to Hawaii, finally pulling the trigger. Michael Forman was in the insurance and real-estate business.
“I was in my late 30s and I knew no one would ring my doorbell,” Good said. “So I decided after the children were in school, I’d go to the local synagogue (one of two in Honolulu, with 4,000 Jews in the state). A young women’s division meeting was taking place. The rabbi introduced me to the 30 women. After the meeting, the chairman of the women’s group asked if I’d be her vice chairman. I said I had just moved there two weeks before and I didn’t know anybody. She said I’d meet them fast.
“Only four months later, the chairman went on a cruise. Her father died aboard and she was traumatized. She could not continue. I became the chairman. I was chairman for the entire state of Hawaii. I loved my life. It was a close-knit (Jewish) community. And you had kindness of heart from everyone.”
Recovering from losing Forman in her 40s, she met Shelly Good a year after her husband’s death.
“It was love at first sight and 27 years later it is the same love affair,” Good said. “I refer to him in my musings in HoneyGood.com, as my ultimate concierge because there is nothing he does not do for me.
“Readers are so interested in knowing everything about Shelly. He is the ultimate husband. He circulates and percolates.”
Sheldon Good is the founder of Sheldon Good and Company, a brokerage and auction firm in Chicago. He has supervised the sales and auctions of thousands of properties and is known as the ‘father of real estate auctions in America.’
In a story on Huffington Post, Susan wrote that “We were both widowed. He was my first and only date! I knew instantly. He knew instantly. We were meant for one another. We are soul mates. We are a team. When I am down, Shelly fills my cup. When he is down — which is almost never — I fill his.
“I am his Suzi! He is my Shelly! I honor him to the depth of my soul. He honors me to the depth of his. Shelly Good is my best friend and my best girlfriend. He is kind, exciting and interesting; he is my confidant and secret keeper and my minute-to-minute advisor, not just on some things but on everything! He is my banker; my traveling sidekick, the most incredible son-in-law to my mother; devoted pet owner to our pooch, Orchid, an astute advisor to our children and grandchildren, and just one really nice guy.”
Shelly’s got a good role model at home and a good dog, too. All are living beings who refuse to be invisible at any age.