The Longeneckers think birthdays ending in 5 or 0 are special. At a Longenecker family gathering in Florida in 2003, we celebrated the birthday of my brother Mark, who turned the big 5-0.
And also of my Aunt Ruthie who celebrated her 85th birthday at our house at the same time.
This month on October 4th, Ruthie reached her 98th birthday. That called for two celebrations: one among residents of the home where she receives nursing care and the other with her family at the same facility.
What she said at the first celebration:
It came suddenly and it left the same way . . .
What happened at the second:
The preliminaries: Tao from Viet Nam, one whom Aunt Ruthie sheltered as a young woman, beautifies the table with an autumn bouquet. Her children think of Ruthie as their grandmother.
Then – family meal with dessert . . .
No 5’s or 0’s appeared on the birthday cake in front of her, but there was a huge number 9 in the calculation – not 98 candles, but close!
She had her drowsy moments during the party, but slowly awakening once, she looked around the table and observed, “It can’t be denied that women outnumber the men here.”
My sisters Janice and Jean, two grandnieces, and a nephew
She didn’t have enough wind to blow out the two candles at first. Neither did I. We all sent her good wishes after 4-5 puffs, extinguishing the two flames.
Earlier in the week, Ruthie with her perky pony tail leaned in, looked intently at my computer screen with eyes wide open.
When we came to the vintage photo of the 1930s family reunion, she began identifying a few relatives she remembered – her aunts, uncles, her father, her mother (“My, she was thinner then, if you know what I mean,” she said with a wry smile, viewing her mother.) Her left hand moved steadily if quavery across the family photo – speaking names of relatives long dead: “Grandma Martin, Grandpa Sam, Uncle Frank, Uncle Joe, Mattie, Bertha, oh, and my brother Ray.” Long pauses often punctuated the name call.
I was thrilled to observe the foggy memory mists lifting and blowing away for a few precious minutes . . .
Remember my promise on the October 5 post? I did show her the post of her life in pictures, including your comments.
They made her smile, smile real big!
“Thank you,” she said.
Madeleine L’Engle’s birthday sentiment:
The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
Given a choice, what age would you choose among the ages you’ve been?
A centenarian! That’s what my Aunt Cecelia is today. Born March 28, 1915, Aunt Ceci is one-hundred years old. According to one source, only 7347 U. S. citizens are now 100 years old, and today my aunt has joined their ranks. Special things will happen to her today. Aunt Cecilia Risser Metzler will receive a letter from President Obama. Friends and relatives will send her cards. Her family is planning a reception in her honor. Who knows what else is in store for her.
Last May, when Mother was still alive I wrote a post about her and her sister-in-law Cecilia, then both nonagenarians. You can read it here. Aunt Cecilia is my last remaining aunt on my mother’s side of the family. She’s IT. And what a life she has lived!
In an article that ran in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (Sept. 20, 2004) journalist Lori Van Ingen listed all the volunteer service that has spanned Aunt Cecilia’s life time. Mother sent this article to me with a sticky note referring to her own volunteering at C. B, Choice Books.
Pastor’s wife with my Uncle, Rev. Clyde Metzler at Hernley’s Mennonite Church near Manheim for 31 years (1943-1974) where visiting members and volunteering got into her blood, where it became “her line of work, really,” she says. She sent out 15-18 birthday cards monthly for many years.
Partner with her husband at Mount Joy Furniture Hospital, Mount Joy, PA
Volunteer at Nearly Nu Thrift Shop in Manheim, PA.
Kitchen Assistant for 5 years for Meals on Wheels where she created menus and was involved in daily food preparation.
Served at Mt. Hope Dunkard Brethren Home in Manheim for 7 years, feeding residents, pushing wheelchairs, writing letters for them, and doing some mending. She also played the harmonica for residents, a skill she learned from her dad.
Volunteer at The Mennonite Home for 8 years where she fed and read to the residents, worked in the thrift shop at the home and helped in the laundry.
The life of Cecilia Risser Metzler, volunteer extraordinaire, has not been a bed of roses unless one considers that roses have thorns. Her youngest daughter Eunice, engaged to be married to Robert Keener, died suddenly of complications from a congenital heart condition. A few years after Eunice’s death, Clyde and Cecilia drove from their home in Pennsylvania to Goshen, Indiana to attend Robert’s subsequent wedding to Rhoda, but not without misgivings. The Metzlers both had considered Bob a member of the family, so it felt awkward to attend his marriage to someone else, another reminder of the loss of their precious Eunice. In the course of time, however, Bob’s wife Rhoda learned about the death of Cecilia’s husband Clyde only 4 years after their daughter’s death and wanted to know more about Cecilia as a real person, and not just the mother of Eunice, her husband’s former fiancée.
Rhoda writes of Cecilia’s strong faith and of how she coped with two losses by organizing a group of seven other widows to do volunteer work, eat out together — even play Pitch and Putt Golf. This jolly group went to the mountains and seashore at Cape May regularly. One year Cecilia attended a Super Bowl game.
Game Girl / Cheerleader
Did I mention Cecilia is a game girl too? Competitive and exuberant by nature, Cecilia loves playing board games, card games, dominoes – even computer card games. She paused long enough in her game of Tumbling Numbers on the computer to have her photo taken with my sister Jan, brother Mark and me last November at Landis Homes.
Besides a game girl, some would call Cecilia a cheer-leader too. However, she doesn’t need a short, twirly skirt or megaphone to root for the Phillies’ baseball team or the Philadelphia Eagles. She admits to not quite understanding football though her son Clair has given her some pointers. In her home town, she was also an avid Manheim Central Barons fan because she was a close neighbor of coach Mike Williams for 25 years. When the state champion Barons had their parade in the fall of 2003, Cecilia “took her place in the square to cheer their accomplishment. When Williams saw her, he stopped the parade, got out of his convertible and gave her a big hug.” She said:
I was so amazed, stunned. I thought he’d wave, but didn’t think he’d stop the parade!
Coach Williams also dropped by her Landis Homes apartment to autograph her Baron’s snow globe (quoted from Intelligencer Journal, cited above.)
Words of Wisdom
“What is your secret of a long and productive life, Aunt Cecilia?” we wonder. She has shared two bits of wisdom to overcoming the rough spots in life. Remember this, she says:
Life is a struggle, and
Life is a struggle
“Once we truly know that life is difficult and we truly understand and accept it, then we are no longer overwhelmed by it.” (Reference: “A friendship that might not have been,” by Rhoda Keener in the Christian Living magazine)
Aunt Cecilia, I think there might be a parade of family and friends coming by your residence at Landis Homes today. Through God’s help, you have triumphed through the dark valleys and inspired us from the mountaintops of your rich experience. And we thank you!
Do you have elderly relatives that have hit the age ninety mark? Have any reached 100? What words of wisdom have they given to you?
Coming next: A Robbery, Sad Friday, and a Clump of Daffodils
You may remember when I visited Pennsylvania last month we made butter the old-fashioned way, my mother, sister and I shaking cream in a 2-quart jar. This week my Southern friend Carolyn threw a birthday bash that included friends making butter together. We did just that – working in pairs, taking turns shaking, and doing it all to music of the 1950s and 60s.
Here is Carolyn explaining how it’s done. Now girls, “Shake the cream until it curdles into butter. Add a pinch of salt. And then to spice it up a notch, choose a combination of honey, cinnamon, mixed herbs, or garlic salt to give your butter some personality . . . .”
Next the ten of us pair off with pint jars of cream, handing off the jar to our mate when our arms are about to fall off . . .
And away we go!
To the tunes of Let’s Have a Party and All Shook Up, we Shake, Rattle, and Roll, way past curds and whey. Finally, with our butter balls all molded and labeled we sit down to a fancy feast, enhanced by the fruits of our labors.
In the 1960s, you could eat anything you wanted, and of course . . . there was no talk about fat and anything like that, and butter and cream were rife. Those were lovely days for gastronomy, I must say. Julia Child
* * *
Have you attended a memorable party, birthday or otherwise? Tell us about it. We’re curious.
Maybe we’ll copy-cat it. You know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Our family has fertile, Lancaster County land in lots and parcels, scattered hither and yon: behind our house there is a small garden of beans, sugar peas, and cucumbers, embroidered with roses and peonies. Then there is a field of four acres in Rheems which Daddy plants in corn and sweet potatoes, besides the 9 acres of tomatoes over the river and through the woods near Bainbridge. That’s where I learn to really work–planting, hoeing, and picking the tomato crop.
On the way home from the tomato field in July, I notice a few stars emerging from the twilight sky. The road from the field back to home seems more bumpy now because I’m tired, and I crave a soapy bath to scrub the green tomato plant “glue” from my legs and soak the dirt from under my fingernails. But there’s a happy spot in my mind with the picture of a beautiful bike in it.
Days in the tomato patch come and go, and finally it’s time for my birthday. Mom tells me to go hide in the dining room and wait for the surprise. From my post in front of the long, lace-covered mahogany table, I hear the screen door open to the wash-house, then the kitchen door, and finally the sound of rubber bike wheels turning on the linoleum. I can hardly wait! The anticipation of the sleek bike I pictured weeks ago in the tomato patch is soon to become real. My daddy proudly holds the handlebars of this very special bike, a look of pleasure on his face.
Well, there is a bike. There before me sits a beat-up, second-hand relic with dents that have not quite been hammered out under ugly, flat paint from the shelves of Longenecker Farm Supply. The shiny blue and white bicycle I’ve anticipated all these weeks has morphed into a wreck of muddy blue and dull white the color of pale dirt. The picture in my mind deflates with my dream, a balloon punctured with a rusty nail.
For a few seconds, I act happy because I should, but I can’t possibly stifle the flood of tears burning my eyes. I turn and run through the dining room and up the stairs to find solace in my bedroom.
I’d rather have a bag of dimes.
I wonder why my Dad was so proud of his present to me, one I had a totally different perception of. Is it frugality, cluelessness? Something else?