For many people alive today, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most difficult and challenging time they've ever experienced. But for Pearl Crewe, it's another chapter in a life that began during the Great Depression, and now spans a full century.
"My mother died when I was 15," said Crewe, from her home at Pleasantview Manor in Lewisport. "And there was no one to stay home, only myself. A girl 15 years old, four more to feed — we had to survive on whatever we could. But I did."
On Sunday, Crewe celebrated her 100th birthday. There was cake, loot bags for all her fellow residents at the long-term care home, and a slide show with pictures from Crewe's long life. But something important was missing: the family and friends who dearly wanted to be at Crewe's side to share in the occasion.
Jim Crewe, Pearl's only child, lives in Paradise with his wife Karen.
"We had planned, my wife and I, to go out and spend the day with her and take part in the celebration," said Jim Crewe. "And I totally understand the restrictions and the need for the restrictions, but [there are] mixed emotions, you know. I'm sure she would have been glad to see us. We would have been glad to see her, of course."
Pull up a chair and join Pearl Crewe at her 100th birthday party by watching the video below.
Virtual party for a real-life milestone
Instead, Jim and others joined Pearl virtually, thanks to the staff at Pleasantview Manor, who organized a virtual party for Pearl.
"This is her special day, and it doesn't stop just because of COVID," said Rhonda Simms, owner of Pleasantview Manor. "It's sad that family and friends can't physically be here, but they're a part of her special day as well."
Crewe was one of the first residents to move into Pleasantview Manor, shortly after the doors opened in 2004. She is now the longest-living resident at the facility.
"I remember when she first moved in, she said, 'You know, I'm not going to be alive much longer,'" recalled Simms. "And here she is now celebrating her 100th birthday, and just as lively and active as ever."
A lesson in tough times
Pearl Crewe was born in 1921 in Campbellton, a short drive from Lewisport. After her mother died, and with her father working away, Pearl was left to care for four younger siblings.
At her birthday party, Pearl described the challenges of that time to chuckles from her fellow residents.
"You take a girl 15 years old today, and put her on a chair and a huge pan of flour, seven pounds of flour in the pan, and tell her to make bread. Sure she'd jump in the flour."
Jim Crewe has heard his mother tell many such stories of survival from the Depression. He says those early experiences shaped Pearl's life in all the years that followed.
"I've never forgotten her stoical attitude. She has an attitude of being determined to make it through in spite of overwhelming odds. And basically that's been her approach through life."
Jim says the resiliency that Pearl and others of her generation acquired in those tough times is coming in handy now, as the world faces tough times again.
"You don't forget those things," said Crewe. "I don't mean to be negative toward young people today, they have their own strengths and abilities. But they haven't gone through the crucible of tough times the way the older generation has."
Missing the birthday party may have been tougher for Jim than it was for Pearl. But he says the experience has given him another lesson about resilience, and about the power of love to endure life's greatest challenges.
"Distance has no effect on relationships," said Jim. "Your concern for your relatives, your love for them, is not diminished by distance."
What you have to do is think back, he said.
"Think back to the good times. Think about the hurdles, the tough times, the obstacles, and how you got through them and how they strengthened you and how they strengthened your parents. COVID is an awful thing, but put it in perspective, and play by the rules, and we'll get through this. And we can celebrate that; that's another piece in the memory bank down the road."