It's time to celebrate! Our fellow FReeper, Vendome, helps care for his old dancing partner who turns 100 years old on July 6th.
The party is this weekend, and I thought it would be fun for us FReepers to get on the bandwagon and wish her a Happy 100th Birthday. Vendome can print this out to show her. You only turn 100 once!
With things as bad as they are in this Admin, we need to celebrate something.
Here is an article, another friend had written, of my friend Stella Mae Lerwill Beer in 1995
We have been friends for some 20 years and I love as my own grandmother.
The funny thing is her married name is Beer, while my mother's maiden was Bier!
Her family travelled across the plains, from New York as followers in the Morman faith and arrived in Utah, where most of her family now lives.
She has the most wonderful family you would ever meet and they are just terrific friends who would instantly love.
She has some 78 progeny. She asked me the other day if I could believe it.
I said "I don't know. Either you have a fine Amway Distributorship or your Mormons"
She thought that was funny.
I cannot write or express how much I love her and have grown to really love her more.
She broke her hip on September 16th or really, shattered it, 4 years ago.
She is one tough and determined woman.
We were to go on a cruise to celebrate the 70th Birthday of her Son in Law.
She was unbelievable in her efforts to walk and her unreasonable demand that her body respond. But respond it did and it did what it was told.
9 weeks later we were on that cruise and while she could not fully walk, she was, amazingly, able to walk up the stairs of the cruise ship, so we could wheel her around. There was always a large contingent of family waiting for her and it gave her strength and superhero like determination.
She had a great time on the cruise for 9 days and I think we all just counted ourselves lucky to have known her and having her a little longer.
Shortly after we came back, however, the hip replacement had complications that resulted in 4 more operations and two bouts of MRSA.
I couldn't believe at 96 years old you could have an operation and live, really a full life as before, but to endure the next year of operations, one of which left her without the ball of femur for 3 months. The first round of MRSA has deteriorated the ball and made it spongy, so they cut it off and she was administered antibiotics until it abatated. Talk about painful! Imagine have a sharp stick poking into your hip socket every time you moved and worse when you walked and put weight on it.
Looking back at what she endured that year, I just cannot believe she survived. I mean, a woman in her late 90's and all that? Unbelievable!
I was asked, about 3 years ago, if I would be interested in caring for her. It might only be few months, she was afterall 97 and 1/2, so I said "Yes".
I am not going to say it was easy. I was 44 and very use to my bachelor life. Stella on the other had lived all these years as the Matriarch and Caretaker to her family and anyone else she could help.
I am the #1 child out of 6 children and had live my competitors fo rthe first 18 years of my life and no one ever told me what to do, erh, until my relationship with Stella changed from friend to caretaker.
She rejected the idea of caretaker, she was after the Queen, the Baroness and Adored by all but no one ever told her what to do either.
It was going to battle of wills.
Her will was to do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted, while my will was to keep her safe, from herself, while never robbing her of her dignity or pride.
After the last operation and I had become her caretaker, I was no longer her date to the ballet, lunch, travel or the many activities of the last 20 years, to her I was now an annoyance on the one hand and a trusted friend who would assist her whenever she needed assistance.
Only she would decide what and when that assistance would be. Well not really.
She had decided to starve herself and everynight became a game of how to coax her into eating. She swore up and down "I'm done for".
I said "Really? I don't see it, so let's eat". (You have no idea how eating at 6 or much later grates on me but, that's when she was eating)
Through a combination of weird determination, on my part(I hate eating after 6) and patience, I began to eat slower and slower and eventually I refused to finish my own meal, until she finished hers.
The various games resulted in her resentment and one day declaring "I am an old woman and dying. Stop feeding me. I have prayed to God that he take me".
I said "Hmmm, well my dear, you have truly wasted your thoughts, breath and prayer on a hopeless request. God never hears that prayer, in fact, I don't know that it ever makes out of this house. Now let's eat".
"No, you can't make me" she said, shoving her plate across the dining room table.
"Really? You are from the depression era. What do you think about this?" and with that I tossed both our plates and everthing on the table in the garbage.
"Hey!" "I was going to eat that!" She exclaimed.
I laughed asking "When? When are you going to eat without all these machinations?"
She laughed saying "I can't fool you, like I have the others, you know me" "What else is in the Fridgedaire?"
I gave her a hug and a kiss, she squeezed back and I thought she going to pop my head off.
I said "Hey, there is plenty more food in the refrigerator but, why don't we go out for dinner?" "we have been sitting here in this house for two months and I am tire of it?".
"Well, let's see what we have in the Fridgedaire first"
I thought "Okay, now we are making progress"
I don't remember what we had but, I recall she had all of it and some dessert. A full meal and she ate ravenously.
Afterward she did have one more shot at me "You silly boy and I can call you that, as you are not half my age but, throwing all that food in the garbage was awfully wasteful".
I said "So. It made its point"
She wasn't going to let it go "You are mighty extravegant".
I laughed pretty hard and she started to as well, in a slow roll and then just as loud as I.
Things were going pretty well for the next week. She was eating, no problem. Asking for seconds, no problem. Even wanting desert, no problem.
My problem, was sitting in a house all day and all night, for really no good reason, seems to be a good way to rust out.
I brought up going out somewhere to eat. She said "No, I am not ready. I don't want anyone to see me like this".
"Like what?" I asked
"As a cripple" came her reply.
Talk about setting me off "Don't you ever use that word in my presence again! God does not see you as that and I will never recognize you as that"
She said "But I am".
"No, Stella, you are not. You are Stella Beer. Not the cripple, Stella Beer. Not Stella Beer the cripple. You are Stella Beer. That's it!"
No hyphens for my friend.
"Now let's go get something to eat"
Again with the no and not wanting anyone to see her.
I said "Look, the best cure for you is to be among other people. Not just your family but people who will see you and your beauty. See you and be emboldened by your strength" I said some other things that were edifying and still she said "No".
Finally, I said "No? That's it".
I picked her and put in my car.
She wanted to know where were going, on the one hand, on the other saying "You have no right to impose your will on me".
I laughed and called her Scarlet O'Hara. She laughed back.
I said "You listen to me Scarlet. I know of beautiful Mexican woman that runs a restaraunt in Castroville called the Giant Artichoke and I haven't seen her in months. She makes a smoking dish of Chiles Rellenos and want some!"
"So you want to see a beautiful woman who makes Chiles Rellenos. Okay, then. Go on and leave me on the front porch. I will wait for you", She was slick, I tell ya'.
I laughed and said "No silly, I am going to have the Chiles Rellenos but before that we are going to share the most delicious snack you have ever had".
"What's that?" came her reply
"Well, it's fried artichoke hearts and they are out of this world. You can taste the sweetness of the artichoke heart and a little of the bitter. Just fantastic!"
"Will I like it?" she asked sheepishly(more like slyly, I thought).
I said "Unbelievable! and out of this world delicious!", I was pouring it on but hey I did want those Chiles, served by a beautiful woman. What was I going to do?
"All right, then" She said "You can take me to your beautiful mexican woman to eat those.... things but what if I don't like it?"
I laughed "Well, then we will keep driving around to other restaraunts until we find something you do like" I thought "Heck, might as well get fat, if it gets her to eat but, what the heck. I am not doing anything right now"
So 45 minutes later we arrived and she thougth I was kidding about how pretty the Manager of the restaraunt was.
She said "Well, she is beautiful. Have you ever asked her out".
"No, don't be silly. She is married"
"What? Don't tell me you came her to see married woman".
I laughed and said something about admiring a woman for more than their physical appearance and that many times the most extraordinary view is inside a woman.
"She reminds me of you in some ways" I started to explain.
"How" she asked.
"Well, you see those three kids over there, working"
"Yes. Good looking kids"
"They are good looking kids and they are her kids. She works to keep her children fed and clothed but more importantly, those kids are all straight "A" students and have integrity".
"Yep, just like your kids. All of them with integrity, love and all above average".
So we enjoyed the Chile Rellenos and the fried artichokes.
All the while the beautiful woman and her children coming by paying homage to Stella and smiling, just so big. It really made her feel special.
There were a couple of other tables that came by to say hello. I mean, who wouldn't? She was 97 and when do meet someone that experienced?
She had a great time and after we got back in the car she slapped her leg and then grabbed my arm saying "Those artichoke hearts were so delicious and everyone was so nice. To think of what I'd been denying myself all these months"
"You really like to drive around and have don't you?" She asked
"I do, but mostly with you"
"Silly man. You take me anywhere from now on. I don't need to sit at home like an old person. I'm only 97 and got plenty of life left in me"
She is so damn funny.
"Well, allright then. Where else do you want to go today?" She was downright eager.
Looked to me like "Stella got her groove back" so I said "why don't we go to Rachel's and then home? It's on the way".
"All right then. Let's go" the now among the living Stella said.
Went to our friends house, who was in disbelief. I said that place was turning into a prison and that's no way to live. We visited for hours and then she made us all dinner. Now, Rachel, is a renowned chef, in our area. I don't remember what we had and I am certain it was terrific but my memory is of Stella going on and on about the artichokes and how she had never had Chile Rellenos and she never wanted to stay home again.
It was Rachel who exclaimed "Stella Got her Groove Back" So let's give the attribution to her.
So my friend, Stella, who had in years past, conned me into driving all the way back from Lake Tahoe to visit with her and sometimes from Mendocino, where I had planned to hike, was geared up and ready to dive back into life.
That was 2 and 1/2 years ago. Since then she has been to Mexico, Idaho, Florida, Palm Springs and pretty much living it up. She is after all retired, so what else is there to do?
I won't go into further detail and will leave the story at some two ago. But, I won't say it has been easy but I will say it has been worth every last damn minute.
As of today, I am exhausted from taking care of a woman, who has been so eager to get on with her 100th Birthday Party, she has been up many nights organizing, in her head the outcome. Dreaming out loud and loudly, throughout the night. Many times the dreams of an intensity they feel so real, she gets up out of bed to talk with the people in her dreams.
Ugh! on the one hand. On the other, despite what many others said we made it like I said we would.
We prayed every Sunday and I sang gospels to her, many I hadn't recalled since being a child. She loved and sometimes sang along. Pretty good trick when you are pretty much deaf. But, strangely, she can hear my voice and that of my friend Rachel.
Rachel has prayer for dinner every night giving thanks for all and always for Stella. She also has family night at her house every Sunday.
She and her husband, Stella and I have dinner and watch a movie on the big screen. This TV is so big when you use closed caption, the letters stay at the bottom of the screen.
Stella watches the movies, with the words and she discusses the movies afterwards, just like when she use to.
Most Sunday night dinners are not spent alone with the four of us. She sees enough of us as it is.
Rachel will invite old friends and has small parties with people Stella knows. They have all known Stella for years and many have known her longer than I.
She loves it and uses these nights to tell stories and laugh. Sometime we don't know what she is laughing about but, hey, she is laughing and it's very contagious. If you are someone who prefers to be sad, Stella would ruin it for you.
Always engaged telling stories sometimes from 90 years ago!
Sometimes they are stories we have a million times such as the necklace she wears. Steve Wozniak escorted her to the ballet and a few other functions, after her husband passed and she always recall him with fondness.
He gave her this necklace and she never takes it off, never, ever.
So she tells us the story of this necklace and always laughs at the end. Of course, we have never heard the story... wink, wink!
Who are we to begrudge her.
We indulge her.
So Stella has a couple of sayings that anyone can learn from:
"It's like this kid", she says, as she puts her hand out, "You turn it over and it's still got warts".
So in life you are going to run into things and you need to accept them as they are, not for what would want them to be and deal with them as they are.
In other words, it's not the challenge presented but, rather your response and how overcome the little things in your daily life. When you reflect back on the day and it's agitations, was really all that bad?
She always follows that saying with the following to cement the issue:
"It's a great life... If you don't weaken"
And so Stella will be 100 in 5 days, she will have a party that symbolizes each decade of her life and if we look back upon each decade of the 20th century, we too made it this far and maybe life is a little better for having knowing just one person.
Someone who always smiled and perservered
Someone who I just love and would do anything she ever asked, as I always have, and sometimes do what I think love would compell.
From all this I too have my own terms for life:
"Don't take life so seriously... You won't live through it anyway"
And now you know the story of my tag line.
So a friend, David Cohen, who owns the Willow Glen Newspaper had this article written about Stella 5 years ago.
I think it was a month or two before when Stella had driven me for the last time, to a store down the street.
She said "I turn 95 and I am going to cash in this license. You guys drive me everywhere I want to go anyway!"
|Photograph by Vicki Thompson
|Family Tree: Willow Glen resident Stella Beer turned 95 two days after the Fourth of July. She was born to Catherine Anna Jenson and John Lerwill. Stella was the seventh child in a family of seven boys and five girls. In this picture she is six weeks old and resting on her mother's lap.
|Stellar Stella: At 95, Willow Glen resident is still the family glue
|By Irene Kew
|For Settle Avenue resident Stella Beer, age is just a number. The great-grandmother of 31, who turned 95 on July 6, has never let age slow her down.
At 90, Beer got her driver's license so she could drive herself places. She learned how to use the Internet so she could stay connected with her huge family. And, like any teenager, she has a weekly schedule that's packed with movies, lunches and dinner and dance dates. Just two months ago, the matriarch was at a family gathering in Cancun, Mexico, dancing into the wee hours of the night.
Being on the go is one secret to her longevity, Beer says.
"I exercise all the time, running up and down my driveway," she jokes. "I'm always going someplace. I go to the movies and out to dinner every Saturday. I never gave up my social life."
Though Beer cannot pinpoint any particular routine that helped her stay strong and healthy, she believes it's a combination of good genes and sound lifestyle habits. Her father died when he was 85, her mother at 87. She also has a 90-year-old brother and 84-year-old sister.
"I take good care of myself," she says. "I never drank. I never smoked. I had a good husband who was wonderful and it made a lot of difference."
Family members and close friends, who affectionately call Beer "Ma," say the 61-year Willow Glen resident has been a reservoir of energy for as long as they can remember.
Born to Catherine Anna Jenson and John Lerwill in Payson, Utah, in 1910, Beer is the seventh child in a family of seven boys and five girls. At 18, she met the love of her life, Thomas Lee Beer, on a blind date and married him two years later.
"I fell in love with him because he was a good looking young man," Beer says.
The Great Depression in the 1930s forced the couple to move to California in search of jobs. In 1944, the couple moved into a home on Settle Avenue in Willow Glen, with three daughters in tow, Bonnie Houser, then 12, Leanne Mayo, who was eight and Karen Loewenstern, who was two. The couple paid $4,800 for their California bungalow, which they have since remodeled.
"The street was very rundown and had a lot of old homes," Beer says. "All the people living on the street were old people. They sat on their porches chatting. We were the only family with three little girls."
During World War II, her husband worked at the Joshua Hendy Iron Works plant in Sunnyvale. After the war, he continued to work at the plant, which was bought by Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1947. Beer stayed home to look after the children. During those years Beer would often take her daughters on bicycle rides around the neighborhood in her shorts, sparking gossip in the neighborhood.
"One old lady who lived down the street said, 'It's terrible for that old woman to wear shorts and ride a bicycle,'" Beer says. "I was only 32 years old. I was young."
In 1955, an enterprising Beer took a beauty course in San Jose and opened a beauty parlor, Stella's Beauty Salon, in their family room where residents came for a quick shampoo or trim. Though she didn't advertise her business and relied solely on word of mouth, Beer says business was good.
While Loewenstern, the founder of Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, remembers the family room filled with old-fashioned hair dryers, equipment for hair perms and customers, it was images of Beer sitting at the family's dining table with neighbors in need that stuck in her mind.
"People would always go to her with their problems and she would lend a listening ear," Loewenstern says. "My mother always has a soft shoulder, listening ear and a compassionate heart."
When her husband retired at the age 65 in 1972, Beer closed the salon and they spent the next 15 years traveling the globe together. The couple visited the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Hawaii. The pair went on cruises and often made trips to England, the native country of Beer's father.
It was during a two-week vacation to Europe that her husband died of a heart attack in 1986. It was the worst thing that ever happened to her, Beer says. They were a close couple who loved dancing. The two were part of a dancing club in Willow Glen for 25 years.
"We never went out without each other," she says. "We were together all the time. We went to bed together and got out of bed together."
Though it's been almost 20 years, Beer says she's never stopped crying. Now it's Loewenstern and Rachel Spivack, a close family friend, who help care for her. The women pulled her through that difficult period.
Loewenstern, who was busy building up Ballet San Jose at that time, involved her mother with activities like fundraisers and galas. She also got Beer hooked on ballet performances.
"She's never missed a single ballet performance," Loewenstern says.
At Loewenstern's birthday party in the late 1980s, she introduced Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computers and an avid Ballet San Jose supporter, to Beer. The pair clicked like old-time pals. Wozniak was going through a divorce and her mother was there for him, Loewenstern says. "He was my ballet date for about four years," Beer says. "He's my best buddy now."
Beer's close-knit family is also what kept her going all these years. Her love for her family is evident in the photographs that line the walls of her house and Beer makes it a point to give every newborn in the family their first bath and make them each a blanket. She was there when each of her 13 grandchildren were born and has given almost all of her 31 great grandchildren their first bath.
"It's like a little family ritual," Spivack says. "It's an honor and they all bring their babies to her. When she touches the babies, she gets young again."
Grandsons Tom Sparling and Tim Langton say Beer is what holds the family so closely together. Both have fond childhood memories of their grandparents taking care of them and bringing them on camping trips in their camper.
"The family has always and still revolves around her," says Sparling, a Morgan Hill resident who lunches with his grandmother once a week. "She always wants the latest scoop on what's happening with everyone in the family. She wants the family to be involved in everyone's life." With the entire family spread out over different states, Beer is like a connecting wire, says Langton, who lives in Colorado and talks to Beer about four times a week.
Whenever family members are in California, they all gather in her house. "I never put a 'No Vacancy' on my door," Beer says. "I always have vacancies for my family."
Next-door neighbor Nancy Garrison says Beer's house is as busy as an international airport. "She has lots of friends and family that are constantly coming and going," Garrison says. "There's always some grandchild or great-grandchild coming to visit her, taking her out to lunch or the beach. She's very much in demand."
Beer's energy and love for life has rubbed off on those who know her.
Spivack calls the time she spends daily with Beer "Tuesdays with Ma."
Being around Beer inspires a sense of peace, Spivak says.
"She has this wonderful outlook on life," Spivack says. "After knowing her, I don't sweat the small stuff anymore."
Though Beer has outlived most of the people she knew on Settle Avenue, she continues to inspire neighbors around her. Garrison, who moved into Settle Avenue in 1980, enjoys stopping by in the evenings for a cup of tea. She recalls going to Dancin' on the Avenue with Beer three years ago where Beer pulled her onto the dance floor and started to dance.
"She's got such wonderful energy that I just enjoy being around her," Garrison says. "She is an inspiration to me about growing old gracefully."
And she adds, "I can look forward to growing old, being happy and having a fulfilling life."
Looking back on her life, Beer says she couldn't ask for more. Her birthday wish is simple:
"I want to stay on my feet," she says. "And for as long as I live, I don't want to be a burden to anyone."