A long time ago, there lived a charming lady who lovingly tended her garden in the city.
It wasn’t a huge garden, by any stretch of the imagination, but brimmed with flowers and foliage that defied its limited boundaries.
One in particular caught my eye. Compact and loaded with dainty purple flowers, it seemed to love its shady spot near the side porch.
“That’s Mrs. Lobelia,” she told me.
Kind of formal, but at the same time delightful!
This enchanting lady, whom I’ll call “Mrs. L,” after the plant she named, celebrated her 90th birthday this past October.
My back is screaming just thinking about the work involved, but at 90 years old, she still loves to garden. She raises a variety of vegetation including spring perennials like snowdrops, daffodils and hyacinths.
Summertime will find her surrounded by tall phlox, black eyed Susans, astilbe and hosta, to name a few, as well as lavender, cone flowers and an assortment of annuals like zinnias and of course, lobelia.
At 90 she’s gotten it down to a system. She moves a little stool to one spot and works there till she gets tired. Then she’ll rest and return when she’s ready.
Why didn’t I think of that?
And what’s it like to be on this earth for 90 years?
Recently, I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Mrs. L and her daughter, who inherited her joyful outlook and quirky sense of humor. Mrs. L shared her thoughts on life, love and family.
You know…the stuff that matters.
Mrs. L grew up in a rented apartment with her mother, who spoke no English, and 3 siblings. Her father died when she was a baby, leaving his young widow with nothing but her family to care for. It was a hard life, marked with sorrow when her brother died in a tragic accident at only 14 years old.
She learned from seeing her mother deal with struggles and heartbreak to never give up, and Mrs. L is a self-proclaimed “very determined woman”.
And, get this, kids…there were no cell phones. Only a few households even had telephones.
So if you decided to drive up to Niagara Falls with your friends to see the sun rise after a dance, your family might be on their knees praying for your safe homecoming when you finally made an appearance.
Not that young Mrs. L would do anything like that!
At 21 she met the man she would marry. She knew him “to say hello to,” but one summer evening he asked her to dance and stole her heart.
He was an exceptional young man; steadfast and hard working, honest and brave, traditional, sentimental and fun-loving. They were married a year later and raised four children in the very neighborhood she grew up in.
Everybody knew everybody in this community. Kids hung out in groups. Mrs. L and my mom knew each other from church and from walking the two miles to high school with a bunch of other kids.
Yes, it was uphill both ways in a blizzard.
It was a great place to live, with well kept homes and neighbors who watched out for each other, though sometimes a little too much. LOL
Everything you needed was a short walk away. Groceries, electronics, clothing and shoes, furniture and a quaint ice cream parlor. There were three bakeries and a liquor store. Church and schools were right around the block and there was a tavern on almost every corner serving Friday fish fries.
Life was good in the 1950s and 1960s, Mrs. L recalls fondly. She was busy and happy, married and raising her family, until heartbreak reared its ugly head again, death taking their younger daughter without warning. She was in her early 20s.
This sweet young woman…gone, just like that.
I can’t imagine the sadness, the soul-piercing grief reserved for parents who lose a child.
It takes a strong woman to bear that sorrow.
While sadness is woven into her past, there’s an inner peace, a deep joy about her. She delights in sharing bits of silliness, like a song she wrote in a language of her own invention years ago.
It comes as no surprise to me that Christmas, without a doubt, is her favorite holiday, with family and friends still gathering at her home. Mrs. L used to prepare the entire feast herself, a daunting task! These days everyone is more than happy to contribute.
The time-honored tradition of breaking Oplatek wafers, wishing each other the best in the coming year is always part of the celebration.
I wonder if they still make “Cherry Bounce.”
She will not commit to a favorite song or book, but yellow is her favorite color, a perfect match for her sunny personality.
She adores cashmere sweaters, like the soft pink one she was wearing when we talked, and gives ripped jeans her “least favorite fashion trend” award.
These days she enjoys going out to dinner, plays and concerts, but is also happy to stay home and watch the news. “The news?” I asked. “Yes, especially a certain anchor who’s easy on the eyes.”
Some things never change!
Like sneaking an occasional Oreo cookie or enjoying a Ted’s hotdog.
Hey, she’s 90! She can splurge now and then!
Seriously, though, Mrs. L follows a very sensible diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
That’s impressive! When I’m 90 I’ll probably be all about ice cream!
When asked how she handles stress, she replied, “It depends on what kind of stress. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I scream.”
She says that basically, life is good. There are always worries and concerns. Her friends are dying.
That’s a big one.
Mrs. L says quite a bit changes between 70 and 90. “The rules change…because I change them.”
And “you get slower.”
If she’s slowing down, she certainly hasn’t lost any spunk or determination!
She’s vowed to return to painting and I’m thrilled to hear that because she does the most beautiful oils, free flowing and full of life!
Just like her!
If she could do one thing over, she would have liked to have gone to college and maybe write poetry. Be an author.
Well, she DID make up a language and write a song. I think that counts!
The advice she offers to young people is to “let others have a say on things and not just you.”
Now for the $64,000 question: What’s the first and last thing you do each day?
Her answer? “Go to the bathroom.”
I love her!
Watercolor flowers by Cindy Swiech