Two Mennonite Nonagenarians: Mother Ruth & Aunt Cecilia

Here is my mother’s family of four brothers and one sister in a farm meadow in the 1940s. They are children of Abram Hernley Metzler and Sadie Landis Metzler, a Mennonite family of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.


Standing in birth order are her brothers Landis, Leroy, Clyde, Abram, Jr., with my mother and her sister Verna. Two of her siblings died in their sixties, the others in their seventies. Only my mother is still alive at age 95.

When Mother turned 90 in 2008, her 94-year-old sister-in-law Cecilia Metzler, married to my Uncle Clyde, said to her: “Ninety’s nothing . . . . You have to live past that to make your mark these days.” (Then I saw a quick smile and heard an I-got-you-there chuckle.) Aunt Cecilia, who calls herself Cece now, has always been energetic and feisty, a farm wife and a pastor’s wife. Up until 2011, she has sent me Christmas cards – always the first week of December. And via her daughter Erma’s account, I would occasionally even get email messages from her.

Aunt CeCes card_9x7_300

Mother too has always been strong and hardy all these years. She still lives alone but has watchful neighbors along with my brother Mark who checks in with her regularly. Her mind is still sharp though her hearing, which has always been in a category I’d call bionic, is failing now. When I asked her a few weeks ago, “Do you remember wearing Evening in Paris cologne?” She questioned me back, “Carrots, what do you mean carrots?” This from a woman who most of her life had to hold the telephone receiver away from her ear because the sound was too loud. Oh, my.

I call her often, but she says she likes to get something in the mail, a letter with a stamp on it, she hints. As if to demonstrate how it’s done, last week she sent me a short note with concern about a friend’s health along with a check for special vitamins I send to her. Yes, she still pays her own bills.

Thankfully, her friend is fine now.
Thankfully, her friend is fine now.
"Cecilia Do you really think we are going to live to be 100?" my mother might be asking.
“Cecilia, do you really think we are going to live to be 100?” my mother may be asking.  (Photo: Mother’s 90th party at The Gathering Place, Mount Joy, PA.)

*  *  *

Recently, “60 Minutes” aired a show entitled Living to 90 and Beyond hosted by correspondent Lesley Stahl. The show featured interviews of some of the more than 1600 men and women who participated in a study named “90+” funded by the National Institute of Health. All of the data was collected in the 1980s from residents of a community south of Los Angeles called Leisure World, now re-named Laguna Woods. The study was launched to determine the secrets of longevity and perhaps find clues to preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s often associated with advancing age.

On air, the interviewees, all over 90, were shown undergoing physical testing: reflexes, pace of walking, how quickly they could sit down and stand up again. Their mental acuity was checked as well: Tell me today’s date, spell w-o-r-l-d backwards, remember these words (brown, shirt, charity) – I’ll ask you to repeat them to me in a minute. And so on.

Claudia Kawas, spokesperson for the NIH study, concluded with some statements that weren’t at all surprising. And some that were:

  • People who exercise definitely live longer than those who don’t.
  • Board games, socializing with friends, working in the garden enhance mental health.
  • Taking vitamins doesn’t seem to make much difference.
  • It’s not good to be skinny when you are old.
  • Drinking 1-3 cups of coffee seems to be beneficial.
  • One or two glasses of wine daily is recommended.

My Mother, almost 96, and Aunt Cecilia, now age 99, were part of the “Game Girls” crowd in their prime. They loved playing Uno, Skip-Bo, and Hand & Foot with friends. And they probably both still drink one or two cups of coffee with breakfast.

But rest assured, neither of these good, elderly Mennonite ladies ever imbibes a glass of wine with dinner.


*  *  *

Most of us know one or more friends or family members over 90. Does longevity run in your family?

Do you have a story about a nonagenarian you know?

Coming next: A visit with author Kathleen Pooler and introducing her new book!

41 thoughts on “Two Mennonite Nonagenarians: Mother Ruth & Aunt Cecilia

  1. Good morning, Marian! It’s lovely that your mother and aunt are doing so well! My mom will be 92 in August. Her mind is still sharp, but she can’t see very well now due to macular degeneration (which means she can no longer read as she used to), and she can’t move around too easily these days either. She has always been a coffee drinker, too, and I know she still has a cup every morning, and sometimes later in the day, too. Love of coffee definitely runs in our family!
    Both my grandfathers were in their 90s when they died.


    1. I believe I saw a photo recently of you and your wonderful mom in a recent post. She certainly does not look 92, which bodes well for you, Merril. It’s unfortunate that she has problems with her vision, but even worse would be memory loss. We are blessed to have our mothers so late in life and still reasonably healthy. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You’re an early bird!


      1. You are so right, Marian–about having our mothers and that it’s good my mom’s memory is still good.
        Yes, I am always up early. I’ve always been a morning person. But you actually posted early in the morning! 🙂


  2. My mother is 88 outliving her father’s age of 40 when he died and her mother who passed away at 68. This weekend my brother almost called out the posse and the constabulary. She had traveled alone to Philadelphia to visit old friends since the 50’s to celebrate Dr. R’s 90th birthday. She left on Friday and didn’t call us that she had arrived safely. All right with that. But then we called on Saturday. No answer all day long. Then we called on Sunday extending our calls and e-mails to Dr. R’s children. No answer. Finally, she called us back on Monday morning. She was having a wonderful time. Whew! Don’t know if this story goes with your post but to only attest to the fact, she is very independent and gets around.
    My father lived to 70, his father to 65 and his mother 82. My husband’s parents lived into their 90’s, 97 and 91. All of them are/were coffee drinkers for sure. Enjoyed meeting your mother’s clan, and reading these facts and your thoughts on longevity.


    1. This story is spot on. You mother is a spunky woman at age 88, just what you want her to be but with a little more explanation.

      It matches my own about our son who when a teenager would blithely reply, “But I was okay. Nothing bad happened.” in response to my shrill query, “But why on earth didn’t you call?” His reasons were always understandable but I objected to the NOT KNOWING part.

      Thanks, Georgette. We obviously are on a path with similar side-trips.


  3. Yes Marian in all the tears that I’ve been blessed with Mom. We always played hand and foot with dad and the Wenger’s and we had great times and conversations.

    One day on one of our visits we had dinner at the Wenger’s. After that we were playing hand and foot Nikko our youngest son sat next to Mom who was teaching him how to play. Mom then said to Nikko you have your foot on mine he responded “yes I know your foot feels nice and cuddly.” We all laughed! He was 8 years old then today he is 20 going into he’s third year of college majoring in criminal justice. He has fond memories at Mom’s. Were going to try to visit mom before he leaves back to school.


    1. You keep filling in with stories about Mom that continue long after I left the homestead. Thanks so much. And congratulations to Nikko. I am sure the entire family is proud of him. Yes, I hope you can visit Mom before the fall. She’s love it. We are going up to PA in June.

      Readers, if you haven’t already read it, Gloria’s story about her and my family was published recently as a Mother’s Day post:


      1. Yes I wish we could be there when your there it just doesn’t work for us we’re going to California to visit my cousin who came to chicago for our 25th wedding anniversary which we renewed our vows we had 280 guest. So we thought we’d return the visit.


  4. Hi Marian, this brought back memories of Graham, my husband’s father who lived to 97, hale and hearty to the end. Sharp mind, still played bridge, bowls, did crossword puzzles, drove his own car until he was about 93 or so, until he left the brake off at his bowls club and …. well, that was the end of his car. Luckily no one was injured.
    This is a delightful post – the elderly have much to offer us. Doing exercise and being in community can only be good. And of course, having loving families. Bless Ruth and Cecilia for honouring tradition by way of mailed letters and Christmas cards.
    My parents died too early – father 76 and mother 82. My grandparents lived longer although on the paternal side, my grandfather died during WW1 so I never knew him.
    Thank you for this post!


  5. Oh, Marian I so enjoy your writings because they are so familiar. Your mother’s recent note about Lois, is my aunt, you know…fyi she’s back at her home now. And the picture of your mother in the meadow. I picked her out right away because you look like her…it’s the eyes again. lol! Was the meadow at Elam Longeneckers? Keep remembering and keep writing…maybe the memories will be your book someday. Kathy


    1. It is so nice to “talk” to someone who has shared experiences and can picture the place I talk about even if it is online. Yes, I do know that Lois is your aunt – my mother is quick to empathize when there is trouble or sickness in a family.

      I don’t know where the meadow is, but Elam Longenecker is a good guess, especially since I see cows poking their heads behind the fence and I believe he was a dairy farmer. Thank you for your words of affirmation, Kathy. My blog posts about home and family will probably become a memoir someday. At least it’s a work in progress.


  6. I love the photo of the whole family in birth order and your description of your mother’s hearing as “bionic.” You inevitably make me chuckle at something, Marian. Apparently being teetotalers hasn’t harmed your mother and aunt. They seem to have all the other characteristics of the long livers. With another birthday ahead of me this summer, I am paying attention to the kinds of role models you feature here. To the extent that any of us chooses our path to old age, we could all wish to be as alert and connected as these feisty old women.


    1. You made me laugh too, Shirley. I never thought that having the epithet “feisty old woman” would be a compliment, but so it is, apparently. How fortunate that we both have admirable role models to follow: your mother featured so prominently in BLUSH and then in a recent post, a loving tribute to Catherine Mumaw.

      Best wishes as you travel to New York City. A Mennonite presenting in a theatre–Wow, wow! Unthinkable just a few decades ago.


  7. I enjoy seeing your pictures and notes. Of course I feel that I know your Mother quite well. You have preserved a lot of oldies that are so much fun to look at. Keep posting these pictures.


    1. You’re welcome, Shirley. I am planning something special in a post about my dad (Father’s Day) that I am sure your hubby would enjoy. There is farm equipment involved!

      Thanks for commenting again.


  8. Hello Marian, My heart’s cockles are thoroughly warmed by all your thoughts and photos–especially seeing your mom’s note to you.

    I am encouraged to remember my parents’ last years. It was sad for me/us when they left the farm, choosing to go together to live seven miles away from the farm, at Resthave, “in town.” My father never wore his bib overalls again, and my mother did not wear her apron.

    But, living in community was better than trying to make it alone in the farmhouse, with a bachelor son.

    My father got to be 90 years old for two weeks. I took him on his last drive out to the farm.

    My mother lived to age 94. I enjoyed picking out dresses in catalogs that got mailed to her, then seeing her looking like a queen. My mother recovered her walking skills, using a walker, and she would fly down the halls on her good days.

    Both of them would get up early every morning until their final weeks. They always said “thank you” to the caregivers.

    I have wished sometimes I were still in the line of Anabaptists who build grossdaddy and grossmommy houses. I love how you find ways to keep your mom at hand, and to share her spirit with us.


    1. I can feel the loving care in all the words you choose to describe your parents’ role in your life, particularly during those last days. The apron and bib overalls is an image that sticks with me too. My dad though always wore shirt and pants in a color called moleskin to match the dirt and grease he subjected them to everyday. I remember the wash water was always dark brown on Mondays – the work clothes probably having to go through the tub suds twice.

      Writing memories is doubly enjoyable for me, once when I write them and again when parts of my story resonate with others as it has with you. Thanks heaps, Dolores.


  9. I love that your mom had “bionic” hearing! That — along with “carrots” — made me laugh out loud 🙂

    I don’t know anyone currently in their 90’s, but when I volunteer at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, it’s a tremendous joy to sit and talk with these vessels of wisdom.


    1. I’m glad to add more humor to your life. Interestingly, my husband has been the one with the overt sense of humor, not me. Maybe it’s rubbing off!

      As you get settled in Boise, I’m sure you will find places of volunteer if you haven’t already. Older people in our country, especially in nursing care, seldom have a voice, much less a listening ear. God bless you for such gestures of kindness!


    1. Those were just a summary, but I picked the good ones, especially the one about “It’s not good to be skinny when you’re old.” I guess I’m heading in the right direction–ha! Thanks for the nod, Susan. And hope you feel better soon.


  10. I so enjoy reading your blogs, but this one particularly touched my heart. I have always had the privilege of being around the “older” generation and just love their outlook, sense of humor and wisdom. Thank you for posting this!


    1. Of course, I enjoy the company of all of my followers, but it is something special when my readers are of my daughter’s generation. You are a wise woman, Jamie. Thanks for checking in today.


  11. My Nana J just turned 99 – At 95, she had a bad fall and was insensed that her body should start failing her at 95! She moved into a retirement residence at 97. To her, Nana R. at 87, is just a “kid”!


    1. We have to conclude that feeling one’s age is relative. I feel the same way about aches and pains and I’m decades younger. Hats off to your Nana J and Nana R, who seem to have strong spirits. Thanks for stopping by today, Jenn.


  12. Another wonderful post, Marian. Although my undergraduate education was at a Brethren college (McPherson College) one of the main dorms on campus was Metzler Hall. (30 miles away was Tabor College, which was Mennonite.
    I loved the pictures, but the comments and advice were priceless. I remember buying Evening in Paris for my mother and for my grandmother. My Brethren grandmother was advised by her doctor to have one glass of red wine each evening for her health. She refused, saying, “If it’s not a wedding and Jesus didn’t do a miracle to make it into wine, I can’t drink it.”
    Your post brought back so many memories of stories about my ancestors. Thank you.


    1. I appreciate your filling me in on your educational background and adding your anecdotes once again. Your grandmother had strong convictions and biblical “evidence” to back her up”! I’m sure succeeding generations would take exception to her view nowadays.

      If this post has evoked warm memories for you, it has done the trick. Thank you, Marylin.


  13. Your story reminds me of my grandma, who’s 94. Last night she was lamenting that she had to go shopping for new clothes since she’s gained some weight. She was small to begin with and had lost weight during her bout with pneumonia last year, so I’m thinking the weight gain is a GOOD sign. I’m glad you mentioned the authorities concluding that gaining weight is beneficial in old age, though; maybe THAT will reassure her!


    1. You can quote this report: “Studies have shown . . . !” Your Grandma needs a little weight to ensure continued good health. Last year Mother fell, knocked off her glasses and sustained a black eye, but didn’t break any bones. The doctor said one of the factors was having a little (okay, a lot) extra padding. Ha! Thanks for the timely comment, Rebecca.


  14. One of the borders in my Grammy’s home in Harrisburg was 86 when he moved in. Mr. Musser was like a grandfather to me. He’d take me fishing, go with my Mom and I to hunt for a Christmas tree, and escort me to and from the bus stop (especially after some strange man stopped his car, offered me a ride and said he worked with my Mom. He didn’t.) Mr. Musser was 105 when he died. That was many years ago. His photo stands with other family members in our office.

    I like the findings in the study. At home, we always had a glass of wine with dinner. Part of my French heritage, I think. (among other nationalities) 😉

    My best to your Mom and your Aunt. In the words of Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame: “Live Long and Prosper.”


  15. I like that you introduce me one by one to the cast of characters in the drama of your life. How interesting that you knew someone who years ago reached the age of 105, and male at that! Bravo to him for saving you from an assault upon your virtue.

    You probably know that Mennonites of my mother’s era did/do not approve of consuming wine or other alcoholic beverages because it was forbidden by the Rules and Regulations of the Church, Lancaster Mennonite Conference circa 1965.

    Thank you for your good wishes. My sister and I plan to visit Mother and Aunt in June.


  16. My grandmother was one of ten girls who grew up on a farm, and most of them have lived 90+. We think my grandmother was 94 when she passed, but without a birth certificate, we never knew for certain because birthdays weren’t important to them. She was sharp until she was 92, and her diet for the first 90 years was artery-clogging southern cuisine. She defied all studies on saturated fats and heart disease.


    1. All I can say is “You certainly come from hardy stock–bodes well for your longevity.” How fortunate that Grandma had so many years with a keen mind and relatively strong body. Thanks for sharing, Traci.


  17. I’ve been waiting for this post! I’m so happy you’re celebrating your aunt’s 100th birthday! My mother almost made it! She was just seven months shy of 100. It’s wonderful when their minds are clear and they realize their age. The day before my mother died she said to me, “Well, I don’t think I’m going to make it to 100.” So you and I both have longevity in our genes. I wish the best for both of our minds! 🙂


    1. Thanks for reading this too. I particularly like your last statement. I have always said, “I don’t want to lose my mind or my waistline before I die.” At the moment, one is more at risk than the other – ha!


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