COVID-19 may have caused restrictions in daily life, but not even a pandemic can halt the march of time. Nor can it stop a string of milestone birthday parties.
At the Calvary St Francis Retirement Community in Eleebana, 204 years of fine living is being celebrated today. Resident Gwen Druery is turning 100, while another birthday girl, who is going by only her first name of Laura, is 104.
Gwen Druery has been counting the days to August 1. And she doesn't want to get ahead of herself. As she said to the Herald during the week, "I've got to get there".
"I didn't think I'd ever make it to 100."
Gwen Druery has spent all her life in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. The mother of three, grandmother of five, and great-grandmother of nine said she had "nothing planned" for her birthday.
However, others have been planning a party. The centre is holding a morning tea for the 52 residents, with cake and champagne. Loved ones will able to catch up with Mrs Druery on a video call, and two family members can visit her.
The acting manager of the centre, Melinda Abell, said finding a way to celebrate birthdays during the pandemic had presented challenges.
"We have to be aware of the delicacies of seeing family come through the door to celebrate, when other families have been locked out, so it is tricky," Mrs Abell said.
Gwen Druery's family is disappointed that a party for about 50 guests at a nearby bowling club had to be cancelled.
"I'm really upset about it," said her son, Geoff Druery. "It's terrible for that to happen, after 100 years and to not have a party."
Geoff Druery and his sister, Janice, who is travelling from Taree, will visit their mother and play for her a video that the family is preparing.
The other birthday girl, Laura, is also having a couple of social-distanced visitors. Before coronavirus took hold, the family had been planning a get-together with the mother of six, grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of 12. Now daughters Johanne and Kairen will be dropping in with flowers and cards.
But at least Laura has already received one birthday present she had not thought possible during the pandemic. She has had her hair done. However, it wasn't done before the Herald's visit. And the rule was strict: No hair done, no photo. As Kairen, said, "At 104, a girl still has her dignity!"
Actually, there's been a run on cakes and candles at the Eleebana retirement community lately, with Ruth Parker celebrating her 100th birthday on June 28.
"Just before the financial year ended," Mrs Parker explained.
When asked what was the best part of turning 100, Mrs Parker replied, "I'm alive, I suppose."
"I'm pretty healthy."
Although Mrs Parker said she could no longer walk like she once did. She completed the Great North Walk from Newcastle to Sydney when she was about 70. The mother of three, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of one exercised daily into her 90s.
On Ruth Parker's 100th birthday, a few family members had to stay away, because they had colds. On that day, when she had been hoping to celebrate with her mother, Hilary Parker was being tested for COVID-19, which was negative. All she could do was speak with her Mum on the phone.
"You just have to accept it," Ms Parker said. "You can't predict these things."
Hilary Parker said she was grateful she got in very early, before COVID-19, to celebrate her mother's long and healthy life.
"It must have been a bit prescient, because I made sure that when she turned 99, we arranged a big party for her," she said.
In the course of 100 years, Gwen Druery and Ruth Parker said they had observed the world changing.
"Tremendously," said Mrs Parker. "All the technology. It's beyond me. I can't keep up with it anymore. It used to be so simple."
Yet in the face of the changes, some things have remained constant, including Gwen Druery's gratitude.
"I've always had a good life, good family," she said. "Very lucky girl."
Having lived through the Great Depression and a world war, the ladies are not about to let COVID-19 ruin their big day. After all, life isn't always a party, but you can still have a party to celebrate life.
"That's the best thing," Melinda Abell said.
"That boosts morale exponentially. They love it. Human beings don't change. They love a celebration."
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