One hundred years look good on Viola Street. The Robinwood Retirement Community resident was relaxed and smiling last Wednesday in a pink, silver and white pantsuit when she welcomed family and friends to her centennial birthday.
Her daughter, Barbara Linder, looked on indulgently as her mom greeted guest after guest. “She’s still the queen and the boss, and she’s still a flirt, and she still gets excited about the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Linder said her mother makes friends everywhere with the way she calls people “Sugar” or “Honey,” and her favorite phrases are “Give me some sugar” and also “Kiss my grits.”
Prior to the party, Street’s 90th birthday bash was the most recent time the whole clan and her closest friends had gotten together.
Being someone who does things for others is still important to her. She raised a couple of her grandchildren in addition to her own brood, and today she continues that caregiving. Each morning at the retirement center, Street sees her favorite fellows in the dining room, bringing them coffee, ensuring they have what they need for breakfast, and making sure that they have tucked their shirt tails in.
When asked what her secret is to her long life, Street said, “I’ve been very busy all my life.”
She worked as a school cafeteria manager until 1978, first at East High in Memphis during the period when Cybill Shepherd attended there, and then at Grahamwood Elementary School on Summer Avenue.
She was born in Parkin, Ark., a tiny city in Cross County, but moved to Memphis when she was just eight. She lived in Highland Heights until she moved to Robinwood four years ago and now loves the center, her daughter said.
Linder also apprecaites how the center ensures that her mom gets plenty of intellectual stimulation, good food, socializing and fun activities.
Street adores going to Tunica once a month on the bus with other seniors. Her daughter asked just how she manages that with her bad knees. The elderly mom said they give her a little push to get up the steps, adding, “You do what you have to do.” The senior citizen also finds time to enjoy her favorite meal – chicken wings, on the spicy side – whenever she can get it.
Having friends nearby for companionship and a retirement home that takes her to fun places is a good match for Street’s temperament. Linder said her mother is a national and world traveler who visited Europe five times, Alaska twice and California annually for many years. Back at home, she was active in her church, Highland Heights Methodist, and Linder said the family’s Christian faith is a strong factor in why they have remained so close. She was also an accomplished cook who could turn out multiple-course meals in 30 minutes for guests.
Linder was a little wistful when she mentioned how her mom misses that part of her life and still doesn’t like how aging has given her a few limitations, such as her failing viswion.
Her son said the worst thing he ever did, according to her, was to take her car keys away when she was 95. And she didn’t take it lying down. She called the sheriff on him.
“She’s still mad at me about it,” he said, with a glint of humor in his eyes.
He quietly leaned over to his mother to tell her what people said at the noisy party when she couldn’t hear above the chatter, and he took the time to thank guests at the party.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long, long time,” he said. “It’s a big day for Mama.”
Street has three adult children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Linder said, “Everybody loves her. My kids love her, the grandkids love her, and I love her very much.”
Street had a tableful of gifts, cards, and floweres near her as she took hugs and patted hands with her guests. She was beaming when she said, “I have so many friends. Isn’t it great?”