I went to a party a couple of weeks ago. As parties go, it wasn’t very wild. Pretty tame, actually. Some cake, punch and trail mix was served, and people sang “Happy Birthday to You.”
What was unusual was the honoree, Jane Roberson, turned 100 that day. Jane’s 95-year-old sister Polly was driven six hours from Kentucky to surprise her. Her sister other Corrie died in her late 80s of West Nile virus after she was bitten by a mosquito while watching an Independence Day parade from her front lawn. There are some good genes in that family!
The mayor showed up to read a proclamation declaring it “Jane Roberson Day” in Maryville, Tenn., and said that part of having a day named after you was that you could not be arrested on that day (but that the privilege did not extend to the rest of the family, a disappointment to us, for sure!).
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Born before women had the right to vote, my mother-in-law was born the year of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which started the events of World War I. It was the year that Babe Ruth joined the major leagues. It was the year of the first electric street light and the last passenger pigeon.
The eldest of three daughters, Jane lived on a farm. Her parents held her back in school so that she could be in the same grade as her sister Corrie. At 13, Jane drove herself, Corrie and Polly to school in town every day in the family car.
Jane and Corrie went to Agnes Scott College, and came home to finish their education at the University of Tennessee when Corrie wanted to study medicine (there was no thought that Jane could stay in Georgia alone!) She taught school for a year before marrying.
Jane’s life after that was pretty traditional – raising children, the garden club, bridge club, PTA and supporting her sons’ activities.
She claims to never have been sick a day in her life, and if you don’t count the heart attack in her 60s, she’s right. She’s had some falls, but doesn’t break anything. She can’t hear very well, and can’t see very well, and needs a walker to get around, but her memory is great (better than mine). She says, “I remember everything, just not always in the right order.”
So what does this have to do with faith? This: what has been most characteristic of her life is her faithful friendship, making new friends of every generation in each new decade of her life, looking forward to what is coming next rather than bemoaning what she has lost. She’s been ready to die for a couple of decades, but looks forward to each day of life. She has never questioned the bad things that have happened, but has trusted that things will work out for the best (that’s in the Bible, friends).
When she can’t sleep at night, she counts her blessings. She thinks about trips that she has taken, including traveling alone to Ireland at age 89 to see the first wedding of any of her grandchildren. She thinks about her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, thinking about how grateful she is for them, and praying for them. She pores over two newspapers every day, reading with her magnifying glass, instead of complaining that she can’t see so well anymore.
She’s not interested in TV, thinking it a waste of good thinking time. She works hard to be cheerful with the aides at her assisted living residence, since she knows that so many of the other residents there “complain too much.”
So, 100 years old, with 100 people coming to her birthday party, and more than 100 cards received. Evidence of a life well-lived. She was a teacher 80 years ago, and is teaching still.
The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, near the intersection of Highway 160 and Gold Hill Road. Email her at email@example.com.