In this time of social distancing, Marjorie Wilson’s family still managed a way to come together and watch the matriarch blow out the candles on her 100th-birthday cake.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, on the porch of the East Mount Airy home where Wilson raised two children by herself, the former baker and factory worker beamed as her 80-year-old daughter, Victoria Green, and two of her grandchildren stood around her and wished her well.
“Oh I feel fine,” Wilson said, laughing. “I feel not a day older.”
Pamela Gwaltney, one of Wilson’s granddaughters, was the party planner. She arrived almost an hour before Wilson ran a knife through the first cut of the cake, taking time to bleach down some outdoor furniture and spread out paper plates.
For her, belting out the words to “Happy Birthday” and sharing a champagne toast with her grandmother were a welcome distraction from the coronavirus pandemic. It was a meaningful moment for her family, the foundation of which was laid at the home on Durard Street.
“She’s 100 today, that’s pretty major, and we don’t know how much longer we’ll have with her," Gwaltney said. “Life isn’t promised anyway, but I think even more so now, the reality of that is very clear. And it’s staring us in our faces.”
The original plan, Gwaltney said, was to celebrate Wilson’s life at Zake’s Cafe, a small restaurant in Fort Washington. It would’ve been a modest party, maybe 15 family members and close friends.
“She didn’t want a big party — she thinks it’s bad luck to celebrate a significant birthday like that,” Gwaltney said. “But we wanted to do something comfortable for her. It would be like inviting friends to a lunch. Nothing fancy, but a celebratory get-together.”
But, when Montgomery County officials announced last week that they were closing all restaurants, Gwaltney made the call to make an already intimate gathering a little smaller. She ordered an ice cream cake — funfetti pound cake with cream-cheese ice cream — from the nearby Zsa’s Ice Cream on Germantown Avenue and tucked it into her freezer.
A few neighbors stopped by, drawn by the sight of the balloons and the sounds of Lou Rawls singing “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” One handed Wilson a $100 gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts — a signature part of the centenarian’s daily routine is going with her daughter to get a cup of coffee every morning at the location on Stenton Avenue.
Gwaltney read her grandmother the citation given to her by Mayor Jim Kenney, in which he commended her for “living such a rich and fulfilling life.” Another citation, from the state Senate, came courtesy of Sen. Art Haywood, a Philadelphia Democrat.
“We’re blessed with longevity in our genes,” Erica Green, Gwaltney’s sister, said. “And we stopped to think about how she was about to turn 100, we knew we had to do something special.”