On Tuesday, my grandmother Gladys Gwillim Wing reached the century mark. Born on Aug. 3, 1910 in Oakland, she has lived through two world wars, watched the transportation system move from crank cars to SST jets, and gone from the days when you told the operator where to place your call to this crazy age where a granddaughter passes you a tiny little cell phone and tells you it’s a great-grandson calling from New York.
My entire family flew and drove in from across the country (Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Wyoming, Tennessee, Washington) to join a gathering of 135 people on Sunday to celebrate with her. Sabrina and I met Gladys at her apartment before the party, picking her up (a surprise) in a black stretch limousine. We cruised around Santa Rosa for half an hour, just so people could gaze in the windows, wondering who was inside, while we played the top hits of the 1940s on the CD player.
At the party, held at the Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center, there were tasty treats, wine and drinks, and cake, of course. Three cakes, actually – one for “Gladys,” one for “Mom” and one for “Grandma.” My aunt Alice, Gladys’ only daughter, put together a beautiful slide show to music showing the years none of us knew about, with photographs of my grandmother from her birth to shortly after her marriage. I had never before seen photographs of her skiing, on horseback, in a bathing suit on the beach, or posing with boyfriends. My grandmother, seeing the pictures of her youth, and Mama Tucker, the woman who raised her, was moved to tears.
As expected, Gladys looked fabulous. She wore a shimmery red blouse over a rainbow-colored long skirt, and her infamous high-heeled shoes that have all the colors of the tail of a peacock – which looked perfect with the ensemble, of course.
After the party, the limo took us to my aunt and uncle’s house for an after-party feast on the leftovers, where Grandma took a brief rest. Then she revived to open presents, eat ice cream, and look through the two scrapbooks that had been made for her.
All in all, the party was a rousing success. And it was only part of the celebration. Her friends at Welfare League closed their thrift shop (where she volunteers weekly) today, and held another party, and tomorrow morning, she will receive a birthday greeting on the Today Show from Willard Scott. She also received birthday greetings from Senator Barbara Boxer, President Barack Obama, and a proclamation from the mayor of Santa Rosa.
Gladys shows no signs of slowing down. As we rode in the limo after the party, she said to me, “You could do this for me every five years from here on out.” Maybe we will.