The summer after she turned 80, we asked our friend Marion how she managed to maintain her impressive biceps.
She laughed as she flitted from pastry counter to register. Then she got serious.
“I do my exercise routine every morning,” she said. “It’s important, you know. You have to stay strong.”
A middle child in a family of 10, Marion set her life pace early — move quickly, work hard and chat enthusiastically.
She and her husband “Lefty” worked a dairy farm for 12 years, before moving to the city. They each rose early and kicked off the day with a set calisthenic routine. Until his open heart surgery last summer, 85-year old Lefty’s daily workout included 40 push ups.
While raising six daughters, they each enjoyed long-term jobs, Lefty as an inventory controller for Foxland Harvester and Marion, first in the Catholic schools her daughters attended, and then in the bakery across the street.
They also found time to volunteer in schools, with service organizations, at hospitals and with their parish. Meanwhile, the family grew and, eventually, Lefty and Marion counted 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren among their happy brood.
They never seemed to age, and Lefty spent the day before his diagnosis of a 90% blocked artery cutting their cottage lawn with a push mower.
But, the surgery set him back and he struggled to recover. Lefty died on Oct. 22, one day after he and Marion, with all six daughters and their families gathered around his hospital bed, celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary.
I stood in line to see Marion before Lefty’s funeral this past Saturday, and watched as, elegantly dressed, she took time to speak with each visitor.
“The funeral director said he didn’t want lines,” said her daughter Kris. “But, what can we do? She has the gift of gab.”
On Monday, Marion will return to her familiar spot at Simple Simon Bakery. She’ll move swiftly, greet cheerfully, and continue to set an impressive standard for her young charges.
“I tell them they have to do things right,” she said. “It’s important to set things up the way they should be for the next group of workers to come in.”
I saw her in church Sunday morning, the day after Lefty’s funeral. She took her place as a matter of course in the pew she had shared with Lefty for so many years, and I thought about the advice she had given Molly and me earlier this summer.
“It’s important, you know. You have to stay strong.”