On April Fool’s Day I think of my mother-in-law Lucretia Birkby. The first day of April was her birthday, and we always had a lot of fun celebrating with her. That was especially true in 1998 when she turned 100.
For most of her adult life, the family called her Dulcy. That was a nickname her children gave her. There had been a radio character with that name. Somehow it stuck.
When she moved into the Sidney Care Center at age 97, she told us she wanted to be known by her REAL name, Lucretia. We tried to accommodate her although it was not always easy to remember.
When she talked about her childhood it made us realize the great changes that she had experienced during a century of living. She was born in the days of horses and buggies, saw the first cars chugging into Sidney, watched as air travel was developed and radio, television, and space exploration were created. She never imagined how the simple typewriter of her youth would turn into the complicated computer during her lifetime.
Lucretia lived through the catastrophic influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed over 40 million people worldwide and almost took her life. She was pregnant at the time, but managed to recover and give birth to her first child Robert, who would become my husband.
Lucretia weathered the Great Depression, working as a night telephone operator. Later she cooked and served meals in the small restaurant attached to the Conoco service station on the north edge of Sidney that she ran with her husband Lawrence "Shorty" Birkby.
People loved her chicken and noodles and her homemade pies. I don’t think she ever really enjoyed that job, but it was what had to be done and she did it.
Lucretia loved nature and the out-of-doors. As long as her health permitted, she gardened, something her children learned from her.
Music was another of her pleasures. When her children were young, they would listen with her to Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts of operas.
On her 99th birthday, Lucretia told us she was looking forward to making it to a hundred. We crossed our fingers and then realized that since she had made up her mind, then it was sure to happen. We started planning a party.
It turned out to be the best 100th birthday party I’ve ever attended. Relatives and friends came to the Sidney Health Center from far and wide. The Merry Few Club, which meets once a month, kindly changed the time of their meeting so all their members could be there.
The staff at the center were very helpful. They made lovely arrangements of flowers for the guest tables. They helped with the planning, provided coffee, and came up with cups when I forgot to bring any.
Many of the other residents of the center came to the dining room to share in the festivities. Along with Lucretia’s relatives, they surrounded her with enough love to last her well into her next century.
She smiled when her grandchildren lit the hundred candles on her birthday cake, creating a flame that required more than a few volunteers to blow out.
In honor of Lucretia, her relatives gave a bird bath to the center and placed it in the rose garden outside.
On a table where everyone could look at it was Lucretia’s high school graduation memorabilia book. The pages were covered with her teenaged handwriting, telling about her senior banquet, class play, baccalaureate, and graduation. She had pasted in swatches of her dresses for the events and described them in detail.
The graduation dress was made "of white lace cloth with a skirt made quite full and gathered at the top. There were three rows of insertion lace set in the bottom." She described her baccalaureate dress as "pale green china silk with a skirt made very full with three tucks at the bottom and a decorative cord halfway up the skirt." What lovely images of a sweet young school girl!
After the party, the guest of honor went back to her room for a nap and the rest of us sat together talking about memories of Lucretia. It was a wise conclusion to a memorable April Fool’s Day.
Here’s a hearty soup for a simple springtime meal.
Macaroni and Bean Soup
1 lb. soup beans
2 quarts water
2 tsp. salt
2 carrots, diced
5 strips bacon
½ cup onion, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 small bay leaf
½ tsp. oregano
¼ cup water
1 cup macaroni
Soak beans several hours. Drain. Combine with water, salt and carrots. Simmer in a large kettle until tender. Cook bacon until crisp, then remove. Add onion, celery, and garlic to the bacon drippings. Cook until transparent. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, and water. Simmer 15 minutes. Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water until tender. Drain. Combine all ingredients. Simmer 15 or 20 minutes before serving. Makes about 4 quarts of soup.