Through the Years
The same year Orville Wright’s crude airplane crashed, making his passenger the first fatality of human flight, my Auntie was born. Today, as I watch everyone gather for her party under the broiling July sun, it seems so fitting that fifty people, related by birth or by marriage, have come together to celebrate the 100th birthday of this woman. Theresa Gladys Rakow, sits quietly under a tent on our side lawn, and smiles at the four generations surrounding her: infants and senior citizens, from around the country and abroad. These offspring of her two long- deceased brothers are her family, and Auntie is one of the reasons we have stayed in touch over the years; she has been a presence in our lives, always. I believe that no matter what challenges we must face, it is family that keeps us going. In her own incomparable way, my aunt has modeled that belief for one hundred years….
Born to austere immigrants, our aunt earned a college degree during the Depression, and she substitute taught in the NYC public school system for eight years. But by the time she retired in 1973, Auntie had been a teacher, a principal, and an Assistant Superintendent in Manhattan. Throughout this arduous education and career, she lived at home and remained dedicated to her family, which included a cadre of aunts and uncles from “the old country”. She cared for both of her aging parents until they died, and Auntie always remained connected to each of us, her ten nieces and nephews and our growing families. Our aunt never missed a family celebration.
In all the parties and press coverage surrounding this monumental birthday event, someone invariably asks the secret to Auntie’s longevity. Mostly they hope for a profound or funny response; neither of which my aunt is capable of anymore. They want to hear that “love, and happiness” is the answer. That is part of the answer, as is her unyielding faith and devotion to God. But, I want to tell them; today is truly a celebration of Auntie’s incredible ability, over all these years, to accept each of us for who we are. Throughout all our wild adolescence; pre-marital living arrangements; declarations of homosexuality ; painful divorces; tragic deaths and even our pulling away from her beloved religion, Auntie prayed for us; but never lost faith in us . For someone who was born the same year that Henry Ford introduced the Model T, our Aunt has remained incredibly resilient and loyal to the relatives gathered here today. She has accepted our differences and she has celebrated our joys, because it is family that means the most to her.
Getting to be 100 years old is not for the faint of heart, but I believe that love of family is what helped bring her to this milestone, and I know that it is Auntie who has brought each of us here today.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.