When Rose Carlson saw her youngest sister, Mary Jane Hickman, roll around the corner in a wheelchair, she immediately greeted her with an embrace. Carlson walked with a cane, though she used it less as a walking aid and more as a pointing tool.
When their other sister, Helen Ciraldo, joined up with them, they showed why they’ve been referred to as “the original Energizer Bunnies.” Ciraldo, 97, and Hickman, 94, immediately began chatting with Carlson about their travels, iPhones and their latest Facebook posts.
The sisters came from Florida and Mississippi to celebrate and reminisce on almost an entire century of life with Carlson as she turns 100 years old on Sunday.
Since Carlson was born in 1916, her family has endured some of the nation’s most trying moments together.
They remember when their father lost his job at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1930. The sisters, along with their parents and three brothers, had to move from South Akron to Randolph. They traded their house for a farm, paved streets for mud roads, streetcars for horse-drawn carriages and bathtubs for kitchen washtubs.
“We didn’t think anything of it,” Hickman said. “That was life.”
Decades of war lingered close to home for the women as well.
Ciraldo’s husband, Robert, served in the military for 30 years, rising to the rank of colonel.
Hickman’s husband, John, fought in the Korean War and World War II, and even alongside their three sons in the Vietnam War.
“It was fun reading all their letters,” Hickman said.
Carlson’s husband, Earl, on the other hand, was deferred from the war because he was a chemist. The two lived in the YMCA and YWCA and met at a Lake Erie gathering between the organizations. They were married a year later in a house they rented and eventually bought.
“Good choice,” Hickman said when Carlson talked about Earl.
“He was a great man,” Ciraldo agreed.
Carlson and her husband were active members of the Akron community. They volunteered for United Cerebral Palsy; one of their sons had the condition.
At one time, Carlson worked as a bookkeeper for the city of Akron’s finance department — a job that her first cousin Ray Bliss secured for her (Bliss served as chairman of the Republican National Committee during Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign).
In her spare time, Carlson clocked in hundreds of hours volunteering for the Salvation Army in Akron, serving at one time as president of the Women’s Auxiliary.
“She was a stay-at-home mom, but she was a busy woman,” said Linda Aulino, one of Carlson’s four children.
Now, each of the women has outlived her husband, and even some children.
They make sure to keep in touch with one another through daily phone calls, though, as long as one doesn’t fall asleep first. Every year, they try to set aside time to meet up with their daughters to spend some time together.
“Our favorite thing is to sit and talk and look at old pictures of our childhood,” Ciraldo said.
“We were cute,” Carlson said.
“We still are,” Ciraldo said.
Carlson still keeps in touch with the community as well, volunteering at Akron Children’s Hospital once a week and remaining a member of the Women’s Auxiliary.
Many of the sisters’ combined 10 children, 14 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren flew in for a dinner they were holding Saturday in honor of Carlson’s birthday. This is the largest gathering the family has had in over 50 years.
“I’m excited and happy to see everyone,” Carlson said.
As for longevity, the key is still to be determined. Part of it could be genetics — their father lived until he was 92.
The ladies had a few other pieces of advice to offer, though.
“It comes from the Lord, because he provides and heals,” Hickman said. “He’s the only thing keeping me whole.”
“Have a wonderful family like we’ve had, and share the love,” Ciraldo said. “And thank God every day for all of it.”
“We do have great families,” Carlson said.
Of course, some solutions for longevity were simpler.
“Don’t get hit by a bus,” offered M.J., quoting a joke that her son had made with her.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3216.