I’ve already told you how my five older sisters and I started our traditional birthday parties. This time, I’ll tell you some of the highlights about each of our parties. In order to be respectful of my “elders,” I’ll start with the oldest sister, Anita. (It’s not that I have such a good memory, but I did keep journals about our parties.)
Anita Christman Bastian
I was in my 40s when Anita decided to put on a magic show with me as her assistant. I was to wear a bathing suit under my clothes. After dinner, she had everyone go downstairs while we set up the room. She then pulled a hamper into the living room and told me, “Carole, climb in. When I bang my wand on the hamper and say “Aba-kadabra,” you jump up.” Gullible me climbed in. After a few tricks, I heard the magic word and started to jump up but got stuck and screamed, “Get me out of here now!” Someone finally calmed me down, laid the hamper on its side, maneuvered my shoulders and pulled me out. That was the last time I ever climbed in a hamper!
Anita’s birthday is in March. We showed up at her party on a cold, wintry day with cheap fur coats and high boots. Anita laughed heartily. But, the sisters had more, or should I say less in mind? Someone gave the signal and all of us dropped our fur coats and streaked through the house in our undies. It was a time when young people were streaking and we wanted to find out for ourselves what streaking felt like. It was fun, even if clad in undies, especially when we had to get Anita up off the floor from her roll-on-the-floor belly laugh.
Closer to retirement age, we again wondered what it would feel like to pregnant. All of us arrived at Anita’s door--- pregnant. This time it was much easier pulling out a pillow!
One time Dorothy and I attended a craft show. One vendor had a neat photo of a woman laying on a rock, smothered in snow. Dorothy and I got the same idea. Anita had an immense flat rock in her backyard. We asked the sisters if they’d be willing to expose bare shoulders, lay on Anita’s rock while smothered in snow. We’d then take a photo of each of us. They agreed. Alas, when Anita’s party came that winter, it didn’t snow. Someone did ask a dumb question, “What would we have done with the photo?” I told her, “Place it in our Bible. When we die our kids will find it and say ‘What a Mom!’“
For Anita’s 80th, the sisters worked hard for her surprise. She had always loved the ducks on the farm. So we got her son, Steve, the carpenter, to make 80 small and one large wooden duck. We finished painting them at our brother, David’s house. The day of her party, we picked her up for lunch. When we arrived back at her home, she was greeted by 80 little ducks and one large duck---planted in 12 inches of snow on her front yard. Anita’s children, had her 80th in April and on each table sat a wooden duck.
Today, Anita is 89, lives alone in an apartment at Phoebe Village in Wernersville.
Jannetta, Jannetta, Jannetta Christman Metz
The reason her name is written three times is, when Mom had her stroke, mom called her name three times---every time! At times, we still call her name three times.
Part of one of Jannetta’s parties was held at her grandson, Cory, and wife, Kristie’s, for pizza. Later, on the walk back to her house, Dorothy and I tagged behind and disappeared to a neighbor’s house to dress up for our surprise skit. We dressed in men’s suits, hats, and mustache glasses. We were impersonating two FBI men. We cited the sisters for things like using Wos Wit instead of cooking from scratch, wearing stocking anklets when they are out of style, AARP charged one for not acting her age, the Beautician Association cited one for not being able to decide what color she wanted for her hair, and building an addition on her home for her children, but not for the sisters. Each got cited for at least six things.
A few times, Jannetta and I combined our parties because our birthdays were in October. I soon put an end to that. She was willing to cook a meal at my house. It turned out she complained all night that I didn’t have the dishes a woman needs in her kitchen. I told her, since I don’t like cooking, I don’t have “useless” dishes in my cupboard and she’s never allowed to cook in my kitchen again. She had the nerve to tell me, “I’m glad!”
Jannetta’s family had her 80th party planned by her grandaughter, Megan. Jannetta arrived at her party in a yellow, VW convertible beetle, her favorite car. She received 80 rolls of toilet paper, a very useful gift, from her siblings that night.
She now lives in Florida with her son, Keith, and wife Geri.
Mary Alice Christman Dries
When we had our parties at our parents’ home, Dorothy and Mary Alice combined their January birthday party. The two sisters put on a comical skit, “Christman Sisters La La Home,” (I still have this skit) in Mom’s basement. They were dressed in old-fashioned dresses, gray wigs, and sitting on rocking chairs. The shenanigans in the skit centered around an old folks home, called, “Carole’s Young Christman Girls’ Home.” It seems, as a writer making millions, I purchased this home for the sisters so we could all live under one roof.
In 1998, Mary Alice was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those years, she had her parties at the cancer walk at the college in Kutztown. Even though the chemo took her strength a day or so, she’d always come back with vim and vigor. For those walks she’d pitch a tent---not the newer kind you pop up at the push of a button. This was a tent you unraveled, laid out, propped up, hammered stakes, and more. In her truck were sleeping bags, blankets, mats, pillows, rugs and more for her overnight campers. She brought everything we needed --- food, utensils and plates. All this work was done by the time we arrived!
We slept on the rugs on the ground in sleeping bags. It was hard to get warm. We had about 20 steps just to get to the bathroom. She had a clock set for 2 a.m., when she volunteered us to walk. She forgot we were all over 60!
The next year, she was easy on us. We stayed for the early evening walk and food. Later, we went to her home to sleep in nice, warm, comfy beds.
Mary Alice had her last party ---her 70th—in 2002. Her daughter, LuAnn, had a big party for her with family, friends, and siblings. Our sister-in-law, Millie, (brother, David’s wife) couldn’t be there but David came with the sisters. Since we were all sleeping at Mary Alice’s house that night, David came too. He was told our rule had always been “no men.” So Mary Alice got out her old nightgown and told him, “In order for you to stay, you must wear this nightgown.” He complied. We took a picture to prove to his wife he wore a nightgown.
Mary Alice died about a year later.
Dorothy Christman Phillips
One year, Dorothy chose for us to have a rendezvous with danger---a horse and buggy ride at Brubaker’s, a Mennonite family that lived near Mom and Pop’s farm. When we arrived, the horse and buggy awaited us, horse in tow. Alas, all of us didn’t fit in the buggy, so the young driver opted for an open-air wagon. Three seated themselves on the edge of the flat bed, legs dangling. Dorothy sat with the driver on a high seat. A young girl propped a bench in back of the driver on the flat bed. Anita asked, “Aren’t you going to nail it down?” The girl said, “You’ll be safe.” Soon we took off, quite frightened. Someone asked the driver, “Will any of us fly off if the horse bolts?” The driver insisted we were safe. We did come back in one piece. On the car ride home with Dorothy driving, we screamed, “Don’t you ever take us on a horse and buggy ride again. We could have been killed!”
At another party at Dorothy’s house, we came dressed as Red Hatters. We had invites to a mystery dinner with 20 items on the menu we never heard of. She had three friends as the kitchen crew. We checked off the menu what we wished to eat (the names we didn’t know) for each course. There were times we had no utensils and had to eat with our fingers. It was messy, but fun.
After Dorothy’s husband died, she resided in a 50-plus community in Myerstown. She died in 2012.
Gladys Christman Bleiler
Her first party was an authentic wake. She had organ music, weeds and flowers strewn about. In the muskrat lined cardboard coffin box was Gladys. I gave her eulogy, which she wrote herself.
One time a party was held at her friend’s house. Her friend had everyone take their coats upstairs. That evening, we picked up our coats in the dark since we couldn’t find the light switch. At this time Gladys had a muskrat coat. Two days later, Gladys was sitting in church with another friend. The friend stroked her coat and said, “Where did you get this mink?” Gladys thought her friend was kidding, looked down and gasped, “I stole a mink coat and I’m married to a minister.” She quickly ran to the office and called her friend, who told her, “The owner wasn’t worried. She has it insured. You can return it whenever you can.
Another time, at Gladys’ home, we did “as the Romans do.” It was a grape-crushing party to honor “the god of wine.” The invitation read, “Dedication of the Great Northern American Arbor, to honor mankind and the god of wine, Bacchus. August XIII. Formal attire: toga.” The evening was a tub of laughs stomping grapes. We all refused the wine she offered us when we were finished stomping. It seems at this party, Anita and Dorothy arrived a day early but Gladys willingly kept them the two nights.
Gladys died at the Hospice center in 2007.
Carole Christman Koch
At one of my parties the sisters and myself had to come dressed in PJs and keep them on all evening. One of my presents from Gladys was a mannequin. I wanted one so bad for a vintage dress I had. When I went to pick up the pizza that night, Gladys announced I had to find the pieces of mannequin. I found a leg here, and arm there, but I managed to find them all.
We also had a trip to the “Old Fogie Farm” in York County. We were able to feed the animals, hunt eggs and they made me sling manure, just like old times.
When we moved to Allentown, Dorothy and I did a skit of sexy old ladies. We had on our best sexy outfits, jewelry, lots of makeup, wild hairdos, and false eyelashes. We got the humorous skit from the computer. It was lots of laughs.
For my 70th I not only invited my sisters but my extended family. My invite read: It’s not a surprise! Gifts---yes! I want a written memory of whatever you can think of for my scrapbook. (If unable to attend, I want my gift anyway. I didn’t get many growing up.) It was a grand party with lots of fun memories my family wrote about me.
Now I only have 2 older sisters, Anita (89) and Jannetta (87), left. The parties are over but recently the two were together a few days. When they said their goodbyes at the door, Jannetta asked “I don’t know if this is the last time I see you. If you die before me, when I come, will you open the ‘pearly gates’ for me?” Anita said, “Yes, but if you die before me, will you open the ‘pearly gates’ for me?” She agreed and they hugged.
Now I have no idea when it’s my turn, but I have a feeling all five of them are going to party until I get there. I don’t trust them!
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.