Flossie's Life: Reflecting on 100 years

| 10 Jan 2019 | 10:37

If you knew you'd live for a century, what would you do? If you'd travel the world, stuff big-game for a taxidermist, play hookie to see your favorite performer, brainstorm a startup, raise a family, and volunteer for decades, you’d be living similarly to Florence “Flossie” Meyer, a Sparta resident celebrating her 100th birthday on Jan. 14. Meyer recently reflected on her colorful life, which began on Jan. 14, 1919, at the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic and months before WWI would end with the Treaty of Versailles.
Born in New York City, Meyer is the daughter of Florence and George Habermann, who met in her father's butcher shop.
“He learned to butcher in Germany, before coming to the United States,” she said, “In those days, you had to have a trade and a sponsor before you could emigrate here. My mother was the cashier at the shop, that’s how they got together.”
When she was an infant, the Habermans moved into a an apartment above a rented butcher shop in Jersey City. In a memoir she wrote for her grandchildren on the occasion of her 90th birthday, Meyer recalls having to share the small space and single bathroom with her entire family, but also recalls eating fresh food prepared by her mother, grandmother, and great-aunt every day.
“We didn’t have store-bought bread and cakes, we’d have roasts on the weekends, from meat in the butcher shop that needed to be used," she wrote. "There was no refrigeration, she recalls, and the iceman would come twice a week to bring blocks for the ice box.
“I was only 10 when the stock market crashed, and I don’t know that I remember much of the Depression," she said. "We were poor. But I didn’t really know it, because we were ALL poor.”
She remembers that everyone had to do their part for the family business.
“My first job was delivering packages for my father’s butcher shop, and I would get little tips," she said. "While delivering meat may have been Meyer’s first employment, she would go on to find breakthrough opportunities in high school and beyond.
“I went to the only high school in Jersey City, and we had over 5,000 students there- all nationalities and races, it was very diverse,” she said. Due to the volume of pupils, Meyer would attend school for only half a day to accommodate for space.
“We all went to school in either the morning or afternoon, and we would work the rest of the day.”
Being employed as the babysitter for the family of a taxidermist led to a fascinating opportunity in her late teens.
“I would take care of the children, but when I got old enough, he hired me to be his assistant,” she said. “This taxidermist wasn’t stuffing birds or fish, no. It was all big game for the museums in the city, or for very wealthy clients who’d gone on safari. Families like the Morgans, and other rich people. I’d help with the packing, or do a bit of filing.”
Meyer’s high school days also included trips into the city to hear Frank Sinatra.
“He was so young, and so handsome, but thin! We’d joke that if he closed one eye, he’d look like a sewing needle,” she said, “But we’d skip school to go see him sing at the Paramount during the day. It was just a short trip by train.” Meyer said that Sinatra’s songs continue to be some of her favorites, all these years later.
While working for NJ Bell Telephone as an operator in the 1930s, Meyer met her husband Harry, and recalls that their first date was disastrous. In her memoir, she wrote that their terrible first date aside, they began to see each other seriously, and she admired him because he was “quiet, kind, intelligent, mature, and had that Ford Convertible.” The car in question was a 1938 Ford Cabriolet, green with leather interior, and Meyer claims it’s still the most memorable automobile of her entire life.
“He still had it when we got married,” she said. "So it was our first car together.”
The Meyers married in December 1940, and her husband, an engineer, took a job at the Curtis Wright Aeronautical plant in Paterson, where he worked manufacturing aircraft for WWII. The couple relocated to first Fair Lawn and then Roseland, where they raised three children.
No longer employed by NJ Bell, who in the middle part of the last century did not allow mothers in its workforce, Meyer decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I began a car service,” she said, “It was called WE DRIVE, INC. We’d drive people to their destinations, in their own cars. It was very innovative then, quite ahead of its time.”
During the years in which she owned WE DRIVE, Meyer said the tasks ranged from running people around town for errands, to taking clients to airports and train stations, to driving people to Florida.
“I’d drive them all the way down in their car, then fly back to NJ,” she said, “When their trip was through, I’d fly back down and drive them back!”
Meyer was widowed in 1979 and moved to Sussex County in 1985; first to Newton, and then Sparta, where she currently resides in Knoll View.
“I was retired, and so I took up volunteering to fill my time. I’d always been part of hospital auxiliaries, so I joined the one at Newton.”
That membership led to 25 years of time dedicated to the Beehive Thrift Store on Spring Street.
Meyer also sang with the Sunshine Singers and worked at Manna House, preparing meals for the hungry. Meyer’s efforts have been rewarded with numerous volunteerism awards, most recently recognition of Good Citizenship (and birthday wishes!) from the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“I don’t like stuff,” she said, “I like people. Volunteering has kept me going all these years.”
These days, Meyer still finds time to volunteer, serving on the Sparta Senior Advisory Committee and remaining active in leadership at Knoll Heights and Knoll View. She also fills her days with playing bridge, knitting, doing crosswords, and enjoying visits with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She also finds fulfilment in writing to others.
“I do outreach with my letters and cards,” she said, “I send them to hospitals and prisons. It’s about finding ways to make things seem brighter.”
Of course, one doesn’t reach 100-years-old without accumulating a little wisdom along the way. So what’s Meyer’s secret?
“No one’s life stays the same forever,” she said, “Accept God, and accept change.”
Flossie’s Favorites:
Food: “I love French food! And German food, of course. My all-time favorite is still sauerbraten.”
Movie: “Oh, goodness, I haven’t been to the movies in a while. But it’s still Gone with the Wind…that was the Golden Age!”
Invention: “The telephone! We were one of the first families with one in our home- it was an extension from the butcher shop.”
util “I don’t know- I’ve been to Europe and the Caribbean, and Alaska…oh! Yellowstone- it was so beautiful!”