Hildegarde Haslag sat on the front porch of her Loose Creek home Monday afternoon, watching as the sky grew darker and her family members peered up at the sky through total solar eclipse glasses on her lawn.
As a dusk sky appeared with the solar eclipse in its totality, Haslag sat illuminated with the orange glow of dozens of candles atop her chocolate birthday cake. The eclipse was the cue for her to blow them all out.
Haslag turned 100 years old Aug. 21, 2017.
"I don't know how I got here, though," she said with a smile. "Time goes by so fast."
Haslag remembers her childhood like it was yesterday, speaking German for most of it and not learning English until she was in her teens. Growing up in Koelztown, Haslag worked hard from a young age. Her mother passed away when she was 5 years old, and she and her two brothers worked at home, helping her father, Frank, cut cords of wood used for the railroad.
When she turned 14, Haslag started working as a caretaker, cook and a variety of jobs. For four years, she helped a lady named Katherine "Kate" Schmitz in Westphalia.
"I helped her up the stairs, cut her lawn. She couldn't even comb her hair," Haslag said. "But we became very close; she was like a mother to me."
During her time working for Schmitz, she met Aloysius Haslag at a friend's party. It was love at first sight for Aloysius. Once learning he lived on a farm close to Schmitz's residence, Haslag said, she learned how to drive Schmitz's 1929 Studebaker just a few days later.
The couple married in 1939, and she has many fond memories of their farm. Haslag said they had all kinds of livestock, chickens, ducks and horses — including her favorite pet, a pony named Dobby. They also grew wheat, barley and corn. The strawberry patch spanning 3 acres was one of their most profitable and popular ventures.
"We picked 6,000 quart one year. Everybody came and picked strawberries; they loved them fresh off the vine," she said. "There were times during season I would go to bed and just see red."
Also a fine carpenter, Aloysius built the house in which Haslag still lives today. Together, the couple had six children — Leroy, Pat, Laren, Arlene, Janet and Steve — 18 grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren.
"We were married for 65 years," she said. "I sure miss him. He was such a good man; he was so honest."
Their shared loved of so many things also came together with music. In fact, that is what Haslag's daughter, Arlene, most remembers from her times spent with her mother.
"I remember standing on the bottom step of the basement and seeing all these people twirling around and dancing. We always had music. Dad played the fiddle; Mom played the mandolin and harmonica; our brother, a professional musician (Leroy Haslag, who performed in Lee Mace's Ozark Opry), played the fiddle; Laren played the drums, we (the sisters) sang," Arlene said. "Music is my best memories of Mom and the family."
Music remains a huge part of Haslag's life, as well, having just recently retired from dancing regularly at the local American Legion hall, a pastime she enjoyed for about 20 years.
"She had a dance partner who was two years older, and he just recently died and he was about 102. She danced until she was about 99," Pat said.
The day before Haslag's birthday, many of her American Legion friends, as well as extended family, fellow congregation members and others, recognized her 100th birthday during a community celebration Sunday at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Loose Creek.
"Even though I put in the church bulletin, 'no presents,' they brought me all kinds of gifts," she said with a laugh, noting she also received a special note from President Donald Trump and the White House in the mail. "I had so many balloons and flowers. Everybody was standing in line to wish me happy birthday. It was such a nice event, and I appreciate my family for putting it together; they worked hard."
They all reveled in Haslag's musical talents as she played a few tunes on her harmonica, including one of her favorites, "Home Sweet Home." For Haslag, that is what has made her life so special: family.
Her celebration Monday included the eclipse, but Haslag wasn't too concerned about watching it. She wore eclipse glasses for photos and enjoyed blowing out her candles during the totality of the astronomical event. But for Haslag, reminiscing about their lives together as a family is what made her smile shine brightly. As her handmade T-shirt said, "1917: 100 years of awesome," and her family was excited to honor it.
"We truly wanted to make this a celebration of her life; she deserves it," Arlene said.