Abraham Lincoln once said, "It's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." Writer and poet, Henery Van Dyke wrote, "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice. But for those who live, time is eternity."And it is the case with the ageless, gifted, blessed, beautiful heart and mind God sent special young lady, Irene Downs, who sees her time to be eternal as she celebrated her 104th birthday among her friends and peers at the Christiana Nursing Home in Gap this past Dec. 12, 2007.
It's the life in her years that she had love for her family, friends and her savior, Jesus Christ, who she gives much thankfulness for her continued blessing each and every day that she is on this earth.
"I learned a long time ago, no matter what has happened, or how unfair life has and can be, to never give up and to press forward. Thanks to God, he has given me the strength to go on," Irene said.
"That's why I love Christmas, Easter, the holidays. The Lord gives me joy, hope and love. God's grace is always with me and every morning I thank him for another day," she said.
"I know that the Bible says we should give thanks for whatever life brings. Accordingly, I am very thankful for my blessing, even though I have bad eyesight now and it's very hard for me to see.
"I am very thankful for what God has already done for me and has always helped me overcome any barriers and gave me great friends, and special ones like you, Joe. Where have you been, Joe? Someone told me you left the country! And got married!"
I told her that she would have been in my wedding if I was married by now, but I did leave the country for three weeks when I went on vacation to visit my family in Italy and saw some of the great cities and countryside of the Old Country. "That's why I didn't visit this summer, but I'm glad you waited for me," as we both laughed.
She said that I always come on her birthday and she was hoping I would come today. I replied that I wouldn't miss her birthday, that I hadn't missed her special day for the past five years. I said that since I'm the only man in her life, we're like an Oreo cookie and can't be separated, and we both laughed.
I brought a homemade birthday card since Irene outlived the birthday cards that only go up to 100 and let Audrey Rosenbaum read the card, since she had other birthday cards to read to her. Rosenbaum, Christiana Nursing Home's story-teller nurse, then gathered Irene's 10 close friends in the room where they had the birthday cake and story-telling sessions for Irene that day.
Rosenbaum began by telling the group that Irene had a special man in her life, introduced me to the group and went on to describe the special card that I made. The card had pictures of Irene's past birthdays, a picture of Irene holding a portrait of her mother along with a rose, a cross, a birthday balloon and a mirror so that she could see what a beautiful and special lady Irene is at 104 years old.
The card read, "Irene, may your birthday be filled with happiness and joy among friends and family. Have a wonderful day. God bless you. Your special friend, Joe D'Angelo." Someone in the group said suddenly, "That's beautiful."
Rosenbaum picked up another birthday card from Mary Louise White of St. Louis, Missouri. "Dear Irene, On your birthday, don't discount the years you celebrate today. Count the friends you made and the joy you have known all along the way. Count the special talents and the interest pursue. Count the stars you wish upon and dreams you see come true. And while you're counting your memories, time will seem to disappear and you add up a thousand joys for every single year. Wishing you happiness as you look back and still more happiness as you look ahead. Happy Birthday. Love always, Louise. "Wow! What a wonderful birthday card," the group said.
The next one was from Sue of St. Louis. "Irene, Happy birthday with much blessing. Life is change, this much we know. We plant a seed, we watch it grow. A caterpillar grows into a butterfly. An acorn falls so it can be transformed into a sturdy tree. And so we know when change arrives across the landscape of our lives we can still trust that it will mean a special blessing not yet seen and that God has plans for you. This year, may each day give way to your blessing. God bless. I love you, Aunt Irene. Love, Susie.
Irene then said, "Oh! That's my little Susie. I knew her since she was born. Can I tell you a story about her?" she asked the group.
"When I lived in New York in the 40s, I had a very dear close friend that had a son. The boy's mother died, leaving him to be raised by the grandmother. Soon later the grandmother died. I since moved back to Coatesville to live. One day I heard a knock on the door. And I was surprised to see it was the boy, Junior. I asked what he was doing here. He was about 17-years-old and he said he had nowhere to go. There's no one left in my family and I remember you as I was growing up.
"At the time I was living with my aunt," Irene said, "and we told Junior to come in and we gave him food and clothes and he stayed with us. He was a very good boy, but one night he came home not smelling too good and I smelled alcohol on his breath. Junior admitted that someone in Coatesville gave him alcohol to drink.
"I told Junior that his mother would not have been happy to see him like that and she would be disappointed if she know he drank alcohol. To keep you out of trouble, I am going to put you in the army," se said. "And that's what I did.
"Junior signed with the army and got stationed in Italy. He decided to make a career of it. In the meantime, Junior met an Italian girl named Rita and married her in Italy. They had two sons and came back to the U.S. to live. Rita wanted a girl so bad they adopted a baby girl named Susie. I watched Susie grow to be a beautiful, caring woman, get married and now has a son of her own," Irene said.
"I consider them my family. They occasionally come to visit me and never forget my birthday," Irene said with a big smile. "I had a happy6 life and lived a good live. I had great parents and many caring friends and couldn't ask for much more, except maybe another birthday," she laughed.
Just then the administrator came into the room to announce the special yearly Family & Friends Christmas dinner would be ready in half an hour and the special guest of the evening would be Irene Downs, who turned 104 years old.
Until next time, Ciao, Joe D'Angelo
P.S. Irene Downs is a testimony that it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years that matter and for those who live, time is eternity. Here is a poem that she gave me a few years ago that speaks to each new stage of life, called "Old Enough to Begin"
At 10 we're much too old
For blocks and baby toys.
At 20 we're too old for pleasure kids enjoy, At 30 we're too old to run a track meet mile At 40 seems old for football out of style.
By 50, we're too old for toughness and tennis and games, At 60 for basketball, the same; But 60 is the age that some to college start And some at 70 begin to hike and master art.
Some at 80 research until they write a book.
Some at 90 paint and fish or garden, by a brook.
Each age of life fulfills unfolding human needs
And each new stage of life, prepares for noble deeds.