(In Memory of Lillian Heckler who passed on January 4th, 2019 going into her 101st year)
I went to visit a good friend of mine out on Long Island for her 100th birthday today. Even at 100, my friend, Lillian, still has mind that is very sharp and the luxury of a diet that she can eat everything and a healthy appetite (for someone who is 100).
I really lucked out with the weather as it had threatened to rain that day but ended up being a sunny day in the high 70’s. The sun peeked out enough where we could spend the day outside on the terrace away from the other residents.
Lillian and I have known each other since my days working at FAO Schwarz in the mid-nineties before I left for culinary arts school. I remember meeting Lillian for a brief moment in the late eighties when I was filling out an application to work at the store after graduation. She had directed my upstairs. I became good friends with her when I worked in the Pre-School Department in the Summer and Fall of 1996 when I took a leave from school. She had worked in the department for years at that point and at 86, she could ring circles around everyone in the department and in the store. I became very close to my staff in the department.
Having seen each other through life’s tragedies, with her the passing of her two children and mine with the passing of my dad, we have been each other’s listening ears. It takes a good friend to be there when a loved one is gone and be able to relate to it.
I have gone out more recently over the last two years as I have seen a big change in her and how happy these visits make her. I bring her meals for special occasions and for the holidays. Last year, I joined her for her birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas and this year for Easter and her milestone 100th birthday. With each visit, I see her immediately cheer up and get a great big smile on her face when I come.
I told her that she is my hero for being 100 years old and still being able to do the things that she does. She still has a sharp mind and wit to her, a nice appetite where she is not restricted in her diet and the fact that when she gets up every morning that she has a purpose. She is the facility’s cheerleader.
She has always told me that when someone new comes to her floor and they look sad in being there, she will wheel herself over and try to cheer them up and make them feel welcome. That is a rare thing in assisted living. She gets involved in all sorts of activities like arts & crafts, music appreciation and special events especially during the holidays. She was in an Easter Bonnet parade this Easter and for the last two years, she was in the Christmas choir for a family day at the facility. She never lets the pitfalls of life affect her.
For her birthday, I went to Main Street Pizza Cafe at 89 Main Street (See my review on TripAdvisor) to pick up some lasagna with meat sauce and garlic knots for her birthday lunch. The food here is excellent. Their marinara sauce is delicious and really makes all their dishes shine. The lasagna is creamy on the inside and has a rich flavor from the meats they use in their sauce. Their garlic knots are soft on the inside and crisp and garlicky on the outside. While I was waiting, I was starved and order a piece of their ‘Grandma’ pizza with fresh tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese and it was one of the best slices of pizza I had had in a long time. The whole outside crust was brushed in garlic accented by the fresh tomato sauce that made every bite incredible.
For dessert and her birthday cake, I got some Italian cookies and a strawberry short cake with a birthday message at Park Bake Shop at 112 Route 25 Street A (See my reviews on TripAdvisor and my blog, “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). I swear that this has got to be one of the best bakeries in the Northeast. Everything I have tried here is delicious and some of the best German and Italian baked products around. Their doughnuts and turnovers are always excellent, topped or filled with all sorts of sweet ingredients. Lillian loved her birthday cake!
We spent our afternoon outside on the front terrace celebrating her birthday with a lot of good food, great conversation and a lot of laughs. We were joined with another caregiver who was taking care of an old friend of the family and the four of us did a lot of talking. I was surprised how both Lillian and the other woman just joined into the conversation like no one’s business. I think this is the power of caring and treating people who have a disability with respect and not as if they are different.
We spent our afternoon catching up on old times, things going on in our lives and Lillian told me of her time in the home. You should have seen how these women opened up when they had someone to talk to and who listened. The power of conversation!
After a nice afternoon of eating, lots of laughs and reminiscing, I had to head home on the long trip to New Jersey. So I got Lillian back inside and said my goodbyes. She was a different person when I left with a big smile and a big birthday balloon on her wheelchair to cheer her up. What a way to spend your 100th birthday!
This is what good friends are for!
Places to Eat:
Main Street Pizza Cafe
89 Main Street
Kings Park, NY 11754
My review on TripAdvisor:
Park Bake Shop
112 Route 25 Street A
Kings Park, NY 11754
My review on TripAdvisor:
My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com: