What can you say about a 100th birthday that hasn’t been said before? Lots, when the centenarian is an adventurous world traveler surrounded by 80 friends in the packed Council House dining room.
Rabbi Scott Sperling of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, where Zerline Aronin is a long-time member, opened the program most appropriately with (what else?) the Sh’hecheyanu — the prayer that thanks God for sustaining us so that we are able to reach this day. He then spoke about the character traits that have helped Zerline reach this momentous day: Her sense of humor and the continuing delight that she takes out of life.
Zerline’s good friend Marj Spring read a poem she had written for the occasion, touching on some of the high points of Zerline’s life.
“What a flare for style you’ve always had
Always looking your best and never bad.”
And this despite:
“The long road of life hasn’t always
It’s not fun to be legally blind.
But carry on you surely do,
Because nothing ever really stops you!”
Mayor Paul Schell sent congratulations on behalf of the city of Seattle. They included this old adage:“Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.” The mayor added his wish: “I hope that your feathers have been both colorful and luminous.”
He really hit the nail on the head. The highlights of Zerline’s life are delightful. She was born in Castle Rock, Wash., in 1901. Hers was the only Jewish family in town, and they were something of a special attraction. After moving around to Portland and Bellingham, they settled in Seattle. Zerline graduated from Broadway High School in 1919 and began work on a sociology degree at the University of Washington. She left college to marry and raise two children. She survives her husband and daughter and son, but grandchildren and a niece continue to dote on her. Zerline ran a jewelry store on Fifth Avenue in Seattle for 20 years.
She is also a world traveler. Starting in her 70s, she has done everything from hot-air ballooning and camel rides to wild river trips in South America. She went on safari to Africa on a University of Washington trip when she was 85. Her most recent trip was to visit a friend in Ireland when Zerline was 94. According to a Seattle Times article, her connection in London brought her a wheelchair. Zerline responded, “Just stick my luggage on there and let me just hold onto the handle, because I’ve got to walk. I’ve been sitting since Seattle.”
Serving others has been a major part of Zerline’s life. She is a long-time member of the City of Hope. She was named an Angel of Seattle at the age of 93 for her tutoring work. She used phonetics to teach reading to a young man named David Route, a student at T.T. Minor School on Capitol Hill. Every week, Zerline would make a trip to the downtown library to check out books for David. Zerline would like to contact David, but thinks the family has moved out of town.
The birthday cake had one hundred candles, and Zerline blew them out, with a little help from her friends.
During a magic show, another part of this short but lively program, Rev. Jim Brass asked Zerline the name of her favorite beau. “I liked them all” was her reply. She doesn’t have a favorite color either. And her answer to the secret to joy and happiness, “I don’t know, I guess it just happened.” As Rev. Brass said, we knew we were on to something. It is Zerline’s ability to go with the flow, and not get stressed about little things — or even major — hardships that accounts for her serene attitude and long life.
The climax of the program was Zerline’s words in response to a standing ovation (not a small feat for some of the octo- and nonagenarians in attendance). “I’ve never had such a big ovation, but I’ve never been 100 before.” She commented that it was hard not to be able to see or hear, but she still knows what’s going on.
Hardly touching the ice cream and homemade cookies, Zerline left for the next phase of her birthday celebration, organized by the old Broadway High School. She is the oldest living alumna of the school.
A hundred hundred blessings on your birthday, Zerline, and may the next hundred years be sweet for you.
Judith Stoloff is a chaplain and freelance writer in Seattle.