Bernice Myones of Seaford glowed as she watched her mother sing, clap and sway to the music as she and nearly 100 other residents of the Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center in Commack helped celebrate her 108th birthday. Asked the secret of her mother’s longevity, Myones, 71, chuckled.
"I wish I knew," she said. "I’d bottle it and sell it."
Her mother, Ann Kierstein, seated in a wheelchair and alert, offered no insight herself.
"You live naturally," she said.
Yes, she said in answer to another question, she smoked when she was younger. "But I stopped when I started to cough."
Herb Friedman, the executive vice president of Gurwin, pointed out that Kierstein is one of seven residents who are 100 or older. And he said Kierstein is believed to be the oldest person in Suffolk County.
Myones is one of Kierstein’s three children. She also has an 83-year-old son. Her other son died in October at the age of 76.
Kierstein, who survived two husbands, has six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. One of her granddaughters, Lori Weisz, 44, of Plainview, was on hand for the celebration.
"I have two daughters, 6 and 9, and they can’t believe grandma is so old," said Weisz. Kierstein, during a brief press conference before the festivities, recalled that she worked in a factory when she arrived in the United States at the age of 14 from Russia with her sister. Another sister was killed in a pogrom before they left.
"They had to hide me when the inspector came because I was too young [to legally work]," she recalled. Asked about hobbies, Myones said her mother used to sew and dance.
"I used to dance a lot," Kierstein chimed in.
What kind of dancing?
"All kinds. They used to say I sang good, but I didn’t," she said.
With that, the party guests broke into a rendition of "Happy Birthday." Kierstein, wearing a paper tiara, joined in.
"If you had been here four years ago," said Myones, "you would have seen her in the dance club, too."
"What is your favorite food?" Friedman asked Kierstein as she was about to be wheeled across the hall to her party.
"Herring and vegetable soup," she replied.
"What kind of herring, shmaltz?" asked Friedman.
"Pickled," she said. "I used to eat herring at breakfast and dinner. I also used to make stuffed cabbage: very good."
Myones said that until four years ago, her mother lived by herself in the Bronx and regularly prepared meals for her youngest son, who often visited. When she became ill with pneumonia, she went to a local nursing home; she was transferred to Gurwin in June 1997.
Myones said the only times her mother went to a hospital were for childbirth and for a cataract operation.