SEMINOLE — Her hands folded in her lap, her white hair curled, Amber Suydam sits in the private dining room of her assisted living community, ready to make history — and discuss it.
Her birthday isn't until Thursday, but the party balloons are already aloft; the celebratory fliers are up, too, inviting all the residents at the Villas of Casa Celeste. The one birthday gift Suydam longs for the most — the only thing she really wants — lies hundreds of miles away.
Suydam thinks about that birthday wish a lot. And sometimes, she gets so distant in her thoughts and words, she seems lost. But then she'll give a glance, a smile, and her caregivers, Rozsa Bogdan and Nancy Gamble, will know everything is fine.
They will know that Amber Suydam, at 105 years old, is still very much alive.
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Her life: simple, frugal, straight-forward. She was born Oct. 21, 1905, in Fairview Township, Ill., to a farmer, Edgar, and a dressmaker, Elizabeth. She attended the Methodist church every Sunday; took piano lessons every week. She had two brothers, Lloyd and Wayne, and one sister, Mary Ada. She eventually had a half brother, Edgar Leigh, and a half sister, Irma.
When Suydam was 5, her mother died, leaving her father responsible for the family.
"I had a very wonderful father," Suydam said. In an effort to make parenting easier, Suydam's father would pay his children a quarter a day to brush their teeth. "She tells me often that's why she has all her teeth," Gamble said.
Straight out of high school, Suydam got a job at the Dutchman Candy Co. in Chicago. She did window trimming and was always on the quest for the perfect bow.
"To this day, (Amber) appreciates a really good ribbon," Gamble said.
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Suydam never married. "Amber always told me that the reason why she's lived so long is because she never married and never had any children," Bogdan said.
Her hero was her father, who 95 years ago gave her the gold ring with the baby pink stone she still wears on her right hand.
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Every Saturday at 7 p.m., Suydam still looks forward to watching The Lawrence Welk Show. When the snack tray comes around, she keeps a keen eye out for the chocolate. But if it's not there, Suydam isn't complaining.
"She never says anything critical, negative," said Bogdan.
Suydam has arthritis and recently lost her hearing. She was an avid letter-writer before her hands betrayed her. She misses corresponding with friends, which was always more than a hobby for Suydam. She would save all the envelopes from all those letters so she could respond. She always responded.
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With only two nieces in Illinois, Suydam has completely outlived her immediate family. The staff of Casa Celeste, the residents and her friends at Faith United Methodist Church in Largo keep her company and bring her warmth.
A card from her niece is her one birthday wish. But she's going to get more. Thursday, as she celebrates in the dining room at Casa Celeste, her niece, Aldine Allen from Peoria, will come walking through the door.
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at email@example.com.