By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
On an October day in 1911, a baby girl, Rachel Townsend Smith, was born in one of the bedrooms of the family home on Livingston Street. One hundred years later, in that same house, Rachel, now Rachel Reichmann, with a long lifetime of memories, turned 100.
On that Saturday afternoon of October 15, a large bright orange jack-o-lantern faced the street with a big grin for passers-by, standing out against the bright white house. Halloween was only a couple of weeks away, in spite of the fact that the warm, pleasant afternoon was more like early summer than mid-October already.
Inside the cool living room with pale mint green walls and flowers everywhere, “Miss Rachel” sat in a chair and greeted guests as they arrived to say hello and wish her a happy birthday. It was a drop-in reception from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and a steady stream of visitors arrived with cards, hugs and kisses.
“I told Miss Rachel I didn’t think I’d ever been to a 100th birthday party before,” said Vicki Howerton, one of the many guests. “And she said ‘that’s okay, I haven’t either.’
”After about two hours, Miss Rachel’s daughter, Raye Wooley, estimated that at least 200 people had been by to see Miss Rachel already. A long lifetime of friends from church, from the town of Madison and from out-of-town. Old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, met again at Miss Rachel’s house. Daughter Raye was pleasantly delighted to run into several people she had gone to school with, and everywhere there was laughter, smiles, embraces and excited voices catching up on the news.
Here also, was a century’s worth of family members that now included great-grandchildren, at least two of them now young adults in their 20s.
The highlight of the celebration, other than singing “Happy Birthday” to Miss Rachel, was when Joe Peavy, former sheriff of Madison County and a longtime family friend, read aloud a proclamation from the Governor of the State of Florida, Rick Scott.
Recognizing the contribution elders have made to the State of Florida, the history they have witnessed and help shape, as well as the rare achievement of reaching the century mark, Gov. Scott’s proclamation praised and congratulated Miss Rachel on her 100th birthday.
Miss Rachel, a Florida native, has indeed witnessed a lot of history; her family had owned and operated the landmark Smith Drug Store for several generations by the time she was born, the oldest drug store continuously owned by the same family in the entire state. When she arrived in 1911, Albert Gilchrist was the Governor of Florida. Since then, there have been 24 more state governors between Gov. Gilchrist and the current Gov. Rick Scott.
A framed copy of Gov. Scott’s proclamation later sat on a nearby table among several vases of flowers.
Twice widowed, Miss Rachel lost her first husband, Nat Norfleet, to a farming accident, and two years later, her son, Nat Norfleet, Jr., died of leukemia. While working in the drug store and running the family business to support her three teenaged children, she fell in love again and married Kirby Reichmann, who passed away several years later.
Miss Rachel grew up in the Presbyterian church, and was very active in civic organizations, serving as president of the Woman’s Club at three different points in time. Family, friends, church and community have always been very important in her long life.
Eventually, her two adult daughters, Raye Wooley and Nell Ring, came back to the family home a few years ago to look after their mother.
About halfway through the afternoon’s birthday celebration, Miss Rachel was too tired to sit up any longer, but she continued greeting a steady stream of company from a comfortable recliner in a cozy den in the back, smiling as one of her four adult grandsons performed the “Gator chop” for her –Miss Rachel is a huge Gator fan – and smiling again as all four of them gathered around and playfully vied for her attention while other family members laughed and took photos.
Near the end of the celebration, there was still a table full of food left, and one of the two huge pink-and-white-frosted sheet cakes still had not been cut. Despite the large numbers of people who dropped by all afternoon, there had been plenty for everyone; nobody went home hungry.
Late in the afternoon, as people were going home, Raye was urging them to take a piece of cake with them.
But whether they went home stuffed with cake or whether they just nibbled a little, they went home with memories of a pleasant October afternoon spent in the company of friends. They came to help a dear friend celebrate a milestone birthday and left with admiration for a grand lady.
As they left, one of the small great grandchildren picked up the grinning jack-o-lantern in front of the house. A lot of Halloweens have come and gone for generations of children in this family home; a lot of Christmases, a lot of birthdays a lot of Easters. Memories have been made there, lives lived, families formed, new generations begun…and Rachel Reichmann has seen it all.
Happy 100th birthday, Miss Rachel!