Esther Heilig’s friends, neighbors and relatives had planned a big party for her 100th birthday.
It was to include cake and ice cream, and a guest list a century in the making, the kind of shindig people would be talking about for years.
But then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and all such gatherings were banned. Heilig’s loved ones worried the celebration wouldn’t happen after all.
Her friends wouldn’t hear of it.
“We just dropped back and punted,” said Cookie Hamilton, one of Heilig’s neighbors.
So a birthday parade Sunday afternoon — the likes of which few have seen — streamed in front of Heilig’s house on Randleman Road south of Greensboro.
It was long and colorful, including cars and pickups decorated with ribbons, flags and balloons. There were numerous motorcycles, one with a dog wearing goggles riding in the sidecar.
Parade watchers lost count of the number of vehicles involved. Fifty, at least. Maybe 100.
Heilig, the birthday girl, sat in a plastic lawn chair by the side of the road, accepting cards, gifts and flowers as parade participants slowed and leaned from the windows of their vehicles, trying their best to maintain social distancing.
A few sang spirited renditions of “Happy Birthday.”
“Oh, my goodness gracious,” Heilig repeated time and again.
Those involved in the parade’s planning said if anyone deserved a memorable 100th birthday bash it was Heilig. A native of Greensboro, she and her husband, Walter, lived up and down the East Coast in their younger years. Walter was a minister and served a variety of churches.
He and his wife returned to Greensboro upon his retirement. Walter died in 1986, but Heilig remains as alert and active as many people half her age. She gets around well with the aid of a cane.
Heilig was a teacher’s assistant for 10 years at Peck Elementary School and, until eight years ago, delivered for Meals on Wheels. She has served in a variety of capacities at Emmanuel Baptist Church, where she’s a longtime member.
Heilig still, as she likes to say, enjoys cooking “for the old folks.”
Her food goes to a variety of those with health issues.
“She just does for everybody,” said Nancy Davis, another neighbor.
“Anything she can do to help others,” said Janice Osborne, Heilig’s niece.
Heilig smiled through it all Sunday, laughing and returning well wishes to everyone who passed.
“This has been so much fun,” she said when it was over.
Asked the secret to her longevity, Heilig was modest. “Love the Lord and take care of your body,” she said.