Ferna Girardin, seated, celebrated her 100th birthday with a parade Sunday. Kneeling beside her is Navada Sayles. First row from left are Ellen Cushing, Dawn Girardin Schneider, Lea Girardin, Yajia Girardin and Mark Schneider. Back row from left are Jay Sayles, Gary Cushing, Seth Sayles, Angie Imlay and Emanuel Pariser. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

WILTON — Ferna Girardin, who turned 100 on September 7, has a lot of good memories combined with a few that aren’t so great.

Girardin lives in the home she and her husband, Valmore, designed themselves.

Dawn Girardin Schneider stands beside a van decorated by Margaret Proctor and Penny Gray for Ferna Girardin’s 100th birthday parade in Wilton Sunday. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

On Sunday, Girardin was treated to a birthday parade. Penny Gray and her mother, Margaret Proctor who is a member of Girardin’s church, decorated her van with balloons, giant stars and Happy Birthday signs.

Former neighbor Rena Bardo taped a birthday greeting for Ferna Girardin to her van Sunday. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Rena Bardo was seen nearby, taping a large sign to the side of her van.

“I think it’s amazing she is still living by herself,” Ferna’s former neighbor said.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Girardin spent time talking about the birthday parade and her life, with her daughters Dawn Schneider and Lea Girardin.

Ferna Girardin of Wilton stands beside the many cards and balloons she received in recognition of her 100th birthday. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

During the interview on Tuesday, Ferna’s kitchen wall could be seen covered with the many cards she received for her birthday. They ranged from a handwritten note on a piece of cardboard (it was all the giver had available at the time) to one adorned with a photograph of Webb Lake in Weld.

One card opened to a lit candle that when blown out, played Happy Birthday. One person couldn’t find a 100th birthday card, so two 50th birthday cards were sent. Cards had arrived from Amsterdam, Arizona and various points throughout Maine.

Girardin received several bouquets, some with fresh flowers and others with dried ones. A vase filled with chocolate flowers adorned the divider between the kitchen and dining room. A bright pink bag filled with 100 Hershey’s kisses also had a place of pride there.

Currently the longest living member of the Wilton First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Ferna has served on every church committee at one time or another, she said.

“My husband and I joined the church on Maundy Thursday, 1959. The church has been a big part of my life,” she said. “We used to have rummage sales. Maxine Scott and I were the treasurers. We’d count the money afterwards, had to come out right to the penny. Sometimes it went to one o’clock in the morning.”

Peggy Howard Hodgkins’ mother, Margaret Howard, used to work on them, Ferna said.

“She would go out and try to sell things. Peggy once said, ‘Mother, stop your honking!’,” Ferna added.

While Valmore was stationed there, the couple lived in Washington, D.C. Ferna worked in a jewelry store for about a year and a half.

“FDR was president then,” she said before sharing a story about a visit General Eisenhower made to the store.

“General Eisenhower came in, wanted a Christmas gift for his wife. We had a ring that didn’t sell very good – it was ugly. The woman who was manager talked it up big, so General Eisenhower bought it. We told the manager, ‘You’re going to get that ring back.’ Sure enough, Mrs. Eisenhower came in and said, ‘This is a lovely ring, but I think I need a wedding ring more.’ She bought a diamond wedding ring, then later in the year came in and said, ‘My husband is going to give out diplomas at West Point. I think I should have a diamond watch.’ So she bought a diamond watch,” Ferna said. “She really was more down to earth than some. We catered to service people, gave them a good discount.”

Ferna, her parents, her sister and both daughters graduated from Wilton Academy, she said.

“My father went to Jay High School first. He ended up at Wilton Academy. I graduated in the Class of 1938, but don’t remember how many were in my class,” Ferna said.

Mom was once asked to drag race on the road while her mother was riding in the car with her, Lea said.

“It was a popular thing to do. I didn’t dare with my mother with me,” Ferna said.

After high school, Ferna went to business college in Gardiner, then worked at the Armstrong Agency in Wilton.

While working there, Ferna saw the bank being robbed across the street and was the key witness, Dawn Schneider said.

“I worked at Armstrong’s right out of business college. They asked me to take the state exam so I could sign. Back then, they signed the policies,” Ferna said. “After I got married, I worked in the jewelry store then came back to Armstrong’s while my husband was deployed. When they built the new mill, International Paper, I went there. I retired after 41 years.

“I was a buyer. Bought what the men needed. Chemicals, steel, all kinds of things. They would bring an order in. If it was more than $500, I had to get 3 bids, take the cheapest, register who I called and how much they were charging,” Ferna said. “I didn’t want to fail.”

Once she had trouble finding a certain size steel and another time getting a specific oil from Mobil Oil.

“I got this woman named Toni, she said they didn’t have it. I needed it Monday, so I called the salesman. He said it would be there Monday and that I’d never have to talk to Toni again,” Ferna said. “I didn’t want to get her fired.

“I enjoyed every place I worked. Some people just hate their jobs. I wasn’t afraid to stand up to the boss if I knew I was right,” she added.

One thing disappointing for Ferna was her husband’s time in the service.

“My husband was in the Air Force. He got shot down 3 times. The Underground got him out. He was missing 5 days once,” Ferna said.

“After 5 days, Western Union called. Dad knew that. He said they had hardly hit the ground when the French Underground was there. They moved us night to night from barns to schools to anyplace they could sleep until they could cross over into England,” Lea said.

Once they crossed over into England, he sent me a telegram, Ferna said.

“That was his first bombing run,” Dawn added. “He was the only one that could speak French when they went down.”

“He was a turret gunner the first time, on a B-17 bomber but he was too big. Later he was put in as a waist gunner,” Ferna said. “He didn’t want to go in the infantry. He had to do 35 missions (in the Air Force) and thought that would be faster.”

“With 3 per week, he thought he’d be out in no time. By the time he got trained, they were bombing the railroads in Germany. They went in the air for 9-10 hours to get to where they would bomb,” Dawn said.

Ferna’s sister was a nurse on the front lines.

“She went over right out of nursing school. She had passed her exam,” Ferna said. “World War II was bad.

“When the war ended, every town celebrated. When out driving, you tooted your horns, waved. Had a bonfire in the middle of town. Every night they brought in the old tires, had the bonfire right in the square. I think every town had their own bonfire.”

The announcement of the war’s end came over the radio, she said.

“Val and I were out driving somewhere. We heard it while we were driving,” Ferna added.

“I lived through World War II, 9-11. I didn’t know about the Depression,” she said.

“Mom has said COVID-19 is more disruptive than anything,” Dawn said.

Fun times spent as a child in Long Island off Portland were remembered by Ferna.

“I spent a couple weeks there in the summer. My aunt had 9 kids, took in 3 more. Priscilla, Rachel and I ran the Island. That was a lot of fun,” she said. “They didn’t keep track of us. They counted kids when they got to bed, made sure there were 12 of us.”

Playing cards is a favorite hobby for Ferna who has no mercy for her opponents, Dawn said.

“I never learned bridge. We play poker at camp, dominoes. During the war I played a lot of cribbage,” Ferna said. “We couldn’t afford to go out.”

While in D.C., Ferna got involved with the blackouts.

“Where we lived, the bathroom was in the middle. I thought I could go in and wash up, brush my teeth. There was banging on the roof and someone yelled, ‘Put your lights out!’ Coming home by train, you had to pull the shades down tight as soon as it got dark out. German subs were off the coast from Florida to Maine,” she said.

The family lived in Livermore Falls for about 7 years, but wanted their daughters to go to school in Wilton. Land was bought in that town and Valmore and Ferna planned their house together, to get what they needed, Lea said.

“We had the house built. We lived with my parents for about 6 months. When we moved in, the house wasn’t completely done,” Ferna said. “It was hard to find a rent, and appliances, after the war. A place in Farmington would sell to vets. We were told it was quicker to put a mail order in to Montgomery Ward than going to a store. We got our washing machine that way.

“A lot of things after the war were done differently then.”

Embroidering, sewing clothes and ceramics are some things Ferna used to do. She also read a lot.

“She loves talking on the phone with friends and family,” Dawn said. “We can wait over an hour to get through.”

“I don’t know what I would do without my phone and television. I gave up driving when I was 96,” Ferna said. “I was getting nervous, stopped before I had an accident.”

One of Ferna’s biggest joys is the family camp in Weld.

“Dad bought it in 1941. I was 21 then. That’s a place we all enjoy,” Ferna said.

Family and friends marked Ferna’s birthday with the parade Sunday, complete with individually boxed pieces of homemade carrot or double chocolate cake, at her Wilton home. On Monday, Ferna’s 100th birthday was celebrated with family at camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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