Aunt Be

May 11, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

Kitty Boy, Freddy the Frog, Milly and Tinkerbell rested among a dozen stuffed animals clustered on a table, tokens of affections from Bessie "Aunt Bess" Snyder's numerous admirers.

In 102 years, she has picked up quite a few of those -- admirers and stuffed animals.

"Isn't this silly? An old woman like me having so many toys," said Aunt Bess, grinning as she plucked Tinkerbell from the crowd. She pushed a button on the dog's belly and placed it on the floor of her room in Carroll Lutheran Village to bark, walk and back-flip.

"So many things. All this junk. If you bring me anything, don't bring me stuffed animals!" Aunt Bess joked. "People must be thinking, 'Look at this crazy old woman!' "

Crazy? No. Old? Relatively speaking, yes, considering this Hampstead native will celebrate her 102nd birthday Friday.

But as Hampstead's St. Mark's Lutheran Evangelical Church prepares to celebrate its oldest member's life, the centenarian has decided to simply live.

"After everything, I'm still here," proclaimed Aunt Bess, a tiny woman whose bright eyes shine behind brown-frame glasses. "I don't really know why, but here I am."

Many of her admirers would say she is here for them to enjoy. In serving as a Sunday school teacher at St. Mark's for 40 years and baby-sitting community children for 50 years, she has touched many lives in the Hampstead-Manchester area.

"She is just a delight, God love her," said the Rev. John Smaligo, St. Mark's pastor. "She is one in a million."

The church will hold a reception after its 10:30 a.m. Sunday service. Church members are signing a birthday card decorated with 102 candles.

"She is as sharp as a tack," said Bonnie Hare, a member of the church's Christian Education Committee organizing the birthday reception. "I am amazed about how much she can remember."

"I remember all the things I've done in my life and, oh, was it good," said Aunt Bess. She carefully pulled a few yellowed envelopes of pictures and memories from her desk. "I know just about everybody. In 100 years, who don't you know?"

Aunt Bess' hands fluttered as she talked about leaving school after fourth grade to work the family farm with her father, Cornelius "Uncle Neil" Snyder, care for her mother, Anna Mary "Aunt Mame" Snyder -- who died of cancer in 1921 -- and help raise her sister Nell, 16 years her junior.

Nell Gosnell, 87, still lives in Hampstead.

In the meantime, the man she called "an absolute angel" -- Adam "Moe-Moe" Snyder, a carpenter who died in 1965 -- decided to travel the country to help build bowling alleys.

"Would you believe my husband and I went together for 22 years before we got married," Aunt Bess asked, and laughed at her memory. "I just told him, 'You go off and build the bowling alleys and when you're done, come on back and then I'll marry you.' Well, he did just that."

They married in 1930, when Aunt Bess was 38 and Moe-Moe was 48, "so we were a little too old for children, honey. We were just two old crazy people!"

Age didn't stop Aunt Bess from opening her arms to children everywhere, anywhere, and volunteering her time in hospitals throughout Baltimore and in her Carroll community.

"I've got kids galore." Aunt Bess pointed to the animals and cards and banners from holidays past that decorate her walls.

"Every time a child walks down this hall, they come in here and play with my things. And then I get another one."

Aunt Bess doesn't know the secret to a long life, though more than a few people have asked her to reveal it. But she said she knows where to start.

"I have lived a full life. I've lived a good Christian life and I love everybody," she said. "The everyday things? Well, I never drank soft drinks, but then again I never liked them. I tried not to eat things not good for my body. I loved bread and butter and milk, ate it every day."

And as she prays at night and rises to each morning, Aunt Bess said she relies on guidance from God -- and particularly his words as explained in John 21:18.

Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

"That's my life," she said simply, resting her hands in her lap for the first time in 90 minutes.

"When I was younger, I helped myself and anyone else who needed it. I guided myself. Now, I look to others to help me. And I look to the Lord."

And others still look to her.

"She's quite a woman," Mrs. Hare said. "She's alive and kicking, and that's all that matters to her."

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