CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION

Truly a week I will never forget to mark an occasion that may only happen once in my life.

Grammy Helen is 100 years old. It’s still so hard to believe! As a family, we anticipated this milestone for months, and we’ve talked of almost nothing else for weeks. But now, I’m not sure how to wrap my brain around a blessing this big! Thankfully, she felt strong and energetic enough to enjoy April 6, 2022, with all of its pomp and circumstance.

One of my favorite moments early in the day was unplanned. I walked her down to the dining hall for lunch at her assisted living facility; and as soon as we entered the room, the bustling swirled around her. A special “Happy Birthday” placemat was set at her usual spot, and a volunteer brought over a huge cupcake with gaudy pink icing. As people greeted her and wished her well, a staffer grabbed a microphone and announced her 100th birthday and asked everyone to sing. I was NOT expecting Gram’s reaction: she covered her face with her hands and started crying. At first, I worried that she was upset. But then I realized she was simply overwhelmed by the magnitude and the attention. I held her hand and told her I loved her and found her a tissue. I am so grateful I was there to share that moment with her.

I am also thankful for countless people who prayed for Grammy over the last month: that she would be full of energy and joy for her birthday. The prayers were definitely answered! Decked out in bright purple and pearls, she was ready to go after a nap. What a privilege to escort the guest of honor to a fete at my uncle’s house. It was a modest gathering and yet multiple generations were represented: three of her children as well as an aunt, a nephew, a niece and two grandchildren. And when her youngest son arrived just before dinner, her delight was priceless!

Dinner was fun and easy–pulled pork sandwiches, chips, coleslaw, fresh fruit and homemade lemon pound cake. Of course, THE cake was served later. Grammy laughed and told stories and savored a big meal. She even posed for photos surrounded by balloons, gifts, cards and flowers. (This after yelling at me earlier in the day for taking too many pictures.) Her sweet cake was strawberry cream, decorated with pink flowers and “Happy 100th Birthday.”

The surprise of the night unfolded when my uncle opened a box of old photos and memorabilia. What a treat! A black and white picture of my Grammy as a teenager in Chicago in the 1930s; her wedding photos from 1946; snapshots of her parents and siblings; a formal portrait of her and my grandfather dressed up for a family wedding–all incredible and most of which I had never seen. I wanted to remember them, so I took pictures of them with my phone.

Even after the sun set on her centennial celebration, the phone calls and cards and visits kept coming. Not to mention the special requests. Her community commemorates 100th birthdays with official photos, but Grammy wouldn’t sit for one until she got her hair done, ha! She woke up early the next morning for an “emergency” appointment and then they whisked her away to the brightest spot in the facility where a professional photographer was all set up. (I reminded her about her favorite bright lipstick.) My father, uncle and I were invited to join her for a few photos which was amazing. I enjoyed trying to make her laugh while the camera was pointed at her. Please note the pink socks!!

In the midst of all the chaos and hullabaloo, I made a few promises that I needed to keep. I washed all her laundry, including the comforter on her bed. I painted her nails since she would not let me forget. We took her out to eat shrimp (her favorite) at Culver’s, a Wisconsin institution. We also managed a family field trip to a local cheese store, ha. And I connected her on a video call with my Auntie in Arizona who couldn’t be in town. What a blessing to see Grammy’s reaction when she appeared on the screen and then to hear the interaction with each of the brothers crammed into the apartment. A true highlight!

Another memory I will cherish from the visit to Wisconsin: her sweet reunion with my brother after years of being apart. I will never forget how her face and eyes lit up when he walked through the door. I nearly lost it watching them together and hearing her say, “It’s so good to see you, Matthew.” The three of us hadn’t been in the same room in decades.

Due to some complicated family dynamics when I was younger, I didn’t see Grammy Helen for 15 years. We wrote letters and exchanged cards on birthdays and holidays, and we spoke on the phone. But as a young adult, I didn’t consider the cost or the precious time I was missing. When I finally made it a priority to make annual visits, I never thought about how long I would have with her. Now that she’s reached 100, my words aren’t enough to adequately describe my gratefulness for this extra season with Grammy. These years have offered me the chance to make up for lost time. Our relationship is such a gift and blessing in my life, and I wouldn’t trade our closeness for anything. God has answered so many prayers in extending her life and allowing her to remain physically healthy and mentally sharp. How do I ever sufficiently thank Him for this?

Grammy Helen, age 100, is now and forever my superhero.

23 Responses to “CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION”

  1. She is quite a lady!

  2. Carla Tortora Hartsell Says:

    Wonderful celebration. Grammy Helen has been blessed to have such a delightful granddaughter as you, Amy!

  3. janet m alden Says:

    What a wonderful story! Bless Grammy Helen and you.

  4. What a lovely tribute for a milestone event. She’s gorgeous – she really is beautiful.

  5. Mary Beth Tulloch Oles Says:

    A wonderful story. Happy Birthday to your sweet Grammy Helen. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Polly Hawkins Says:

    Amy, Beautiful tribute to your grandmother, love all the photos.

  7. Debbie Scheuch Says:

    What a beautiful story. ❤️

  8. Michelle Beam Says:

    How delighted she looks. Grammy Helen is inspiring for sure! Always a treat when you share her. Thank you Amy!!

  9. Kathy Genrich Says:

    What a special day for you and your family. Those are precious memories you will have forever.

  10. Penny RODZEWICZ Says:

    Beautiful words, Amy. It is truly a blessing to have them for so long -and to be relatively healthy – many are not afforded that luxury. My Daddy is 103.5 and I treasure each moment. It is not always smooth and so difficult to see them get older, but it is a blessing. Enjoy every minute and we should always remember to count our blessings – of which she is definitely one of yours!

  11. Matthew Herdt Says:

    I am glad that Grammy Helen and you could go to Culver’s and enjoy shrimp ! Wishing you both a blessed Easter …. 100 years is incredible ! 🍰 From Matt H.

  12. So beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  13. Bruce Farber Says:

    Wow what a touching moment that you could share quite elegantly!! Moments like this should live on forever and ever!! I would also like to wish Grammy Helen a Wonderfully Happy Birthday!! I would also like to tell you how much I have enjoyed listening to you every night!! You have such a warm heart and fantastic sense of humor with a very kind and sincere voice!!

  14. Congratulations! You have Been Blessed to have spent that Time of Celebration with your Grammy God Bless your Family For many more years together! Love the Pictures!

  15. Paul Salemme sr Says:

    Fantastic You will have those memories for ever and ever. You did a outstanding job for your Grandmother 👵

  16. Elaine. Bittinger Says:

    Amy, I loved the story about your grandma. You are so blessed to have her. Give God the glory that you have had her in your life!!!
    Thank you for sharing her life and birthday story to us.
    Elaine Bittinger

  17. I Love Your thoughtfulness, love and joy of being with family! Celebration of life! Love of God!❤️

  18. Michelle Says:

    What a beautiful tribute to Grammy. I always love listening to you talk about her on your show. We can learn and gain so much from our grandparents and great grandparents. They are our living history.

  19. McPherson Diane Says:

    Marvelous birthday celebrations with the love of family and friends! beautiful photos with blessings and well wished from all.

  20. Wendy Bridgeo Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing and allowing us to get to know Grammy Helen and your love for each other! Brought tears to my eyes! 🎂🎉❤️

  21. Terry Keith Says:

    Awesome story. I enjoyed every minute , brought tears to my eyes a few times. I’m so happy for you and your family to be able to Celebrate a 100th Birthday like that with your family. That just shows how God works and let y’all make up time. Thank You for Sharing the story and pictures it was Awesome. May God Watch Over and Protect you and your family, May God Bless Y’all With Many More. Happy Birthday Love and Prayers being sent.

  22. What a great tribute to your Grammy Helen!!! To reach 100 years old is quite the feat and all the congratulations in the world is due to her. It’s wonderful to her about your love for her Amy for that is a true tribute to her. Much health and happiness for Grammy Helen💕💕💕

  23. I am very sorry for your loss.

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