Ellie Gardner, 81, is one of the Older Americans participating in the Older Americans Month Project and has a life full of traveling and being active in the community.
Ellie’s parents are immigrants from Hamburg, Germany. When her father was stationed in the United States, he became a citizen and his wife and son, Ellie’s older brother, came to live in the Untied States.
She was born in an area in New York City where many immigrants lived and was raised there until high school. Ellie recalls that, as a child, she was never bored. Children from her neighborhood would play hopscotch, double Dutch, stickball, and tag. From time to time, she would take the bus to Manhattan to watch a movie. During the winter, kids ice-skated at the local park. When the streetlights went on, kids returned home. Since television wasn’t popularized yet, children would listen to the radio and use their imagination for the visual effects. Ellie would read a book when it rained.
The historical event with the most impact to Ellie was World War II. When she was about 3 or 4 years old, she and her family went back to Germany. During that visit, Ellie saw the riots on the streets and witnessed the Nazis rise to power.
During her high school years, Ellie’s mother bought a resort and farm out in the country. Ellie would work there by waiting on tables and other similar jobs. At that time, she took piano lessons, was the class treasurer, and a cheerleader. When she was 17 years old, she fell in love with the man she would later marry. She received her mother’s permission when her husband was at war. She met her husband just outside on the front lawn of the house she was living in at that time.
Ellie has three sons, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Her son, Richard, broke lots of records when he went to school in Hawaii. One of her granddaughters is a lawyer; one of her grandsons won on Star Search and one of her other granddaughters is currently studying in Hamburg. A few of her grandchildren and children attended Armijo High School.
When Ellie was raising her children, she traveled to Germany, Florida, Pakistan, and was stationed in Hawaii. In Florida, there were nice neighbors and she recalled that there were many activities for her sons in the park. Her memories of Hawaii include wonderful weather and that her son was on the swim team. Pakistan was very cultural. There she met lots of different people, and her family had maids. Ellie had a job in a clinic for patients with leper. She also did lots of social work. When they lived in Germany, she and her family also had maids to help take care of her children.
What Ellie misses most about the past is the “quality of life.” “[Families] had breakfast together, set the table, and had soup and some sort of desert every night,” she said, reminiscing. “Every weekend, my cousins would come to visit when I was growing up.”
Looking at the present, Ellie feels that youth isn’t what it used to be like when she was growing up. For one thing, “boys hold [their] pants up and don’t like the clothes worn at schools. We had to wear something similar to uniforms at school.” Today, kids barely play outside any more. Ellie also remembers of the time when kids used to get only one or two presents for Christmas and seemed to be more appreciative of that then receiving plenty of presents and don’t really care for them. Children used to use coupons from the cigarettes their parents bought in order to exchange it for a Christmas present for their parents. Children today could just use their parents’ credit cards.
Ellie doesn’t seem to understand why people why talk on the phone for such a long time. “When I was growing up, we would just go across the street to talk to each other. Yes, I call people who live far away, but I don’t talk to them for hours!”
After her husband died about five years ago, Ellie remained active. She traveled to China, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hawaii and Croatia. She also went on a cruse to Mexico. In October, she plans to go to Washington DC for a convention of old widows. Ellie also took a computer class and belongs in a book club at the Solano Library. She does aerobics, tai chi, and line dancing.
Ellie currently lives in a house near the water where her boat is literally in her backyard where the water is.