Brian Sullivan: Irish eyes still smiling at age 100
PITTSFIELD -- Wrapping his arms around his mother, Ruth, is easy for Chris Jacoby. It's wrapping his arms around the idea that his mother turned 100 in good physical and mental health this past Monday is what the longtime Herberg Middle School principal finds a bit more challenging.
"The fact that she turned 100 is a gift for me," said Jacoby, the city native who will retire from his duties at Herberg in June, and who hopes and expects to move on to other things in life. "She still has her wits about her and can still play a mean piano. She plays bridge once a week during the summer at Berkshire Hills Country Club, and yes, can still play the piano by ear. She doesn't need the [sheet] music."
Jacoby's father, Matthew, was 46, and Ruth, 39, when the Herberg principal came into the world. He was the last of three boys, following Matt and middle sibling Phillip, a professor at American University in Washington D.C. Jacoby said he doesn't dwell on the fact that his parents weren't spring chickens when he was born.
"My brothers and I sometimes look at each other and shake our heads," he said. We realize what other people sometimes go through with their elder parents. We know about the injuries and afflictions. We're blessed and fortunate."
Jacoby was indeed fortunate. His father passed in 1995 at age 89, while Ruth is still banging the piano keys occasionally at Berkshire Place, the assisted living facility on South Street where she has resided for three years. The family home on Jason Street is now in Phillip's name, and he stays there when he makes one of his frequent visits to Pittsfield.
The family brings Ruth to Jason Street once in a while where she enjoys a respite in the living room with which she's so familiar. And, yes, there's a piano in the room and, yes, Ruth will sit down and play.
"Sometimes the family gets together and we all sing along," Jacoby said.
That also applied to Ruth. Except perhaps sending Chris to piano lessons when he was about 12.
"The studio was on Melville Street," Jacoby said. "Right across from the Boys Club. All I could think about was getting out and going across the street to play basketball. I don't think I had the dexterity in my hands for the piano."
Jacoby is a former hoop standout at Taconic and not a well-known pianist. So, it worked out. But Ruth did little else wrong.
"She would always see the silver lining," the son said. "She was very loyal to the family, almost to a fault. The glass was always half-full. I would think it's the legacy she's leaving for us. It's a remarkable gift."
Ruth Jacoby was the former Ruth Cronin, an Irish gal who lived a middle- class life on Glenwood Avenue. She came from a typical city family, with many siblings in the house, a homemaker mother and a father who worked at General Electric.
Springside Park was the playground of the day, with its small pond in the summer and sledding and skating in the winter. She attended Bridgewater State in the teacher-ed program and returned to Pittsfield, where she taught at Williams Elementary and later retired in 1975 as head of the English department at Crosby Junior High.
"She also played sports," Jacoby said. "We still have her college field hockey skirt."
Her husband eventually passed due to complications from dementia. But Ruth was able to be the sole caregiver almost until his final days.
"She was remarkable," Jacoby said. "She took care of everything."
At 100, the spotlight fell on Ruth Jacoby this week. Even more amazing is that one of her co-residents at Berkshire Place also turned 100 this week. And guess what? They were classmates at Pittsfield High.
But the attention is foreign to Ruth.
"She fell and broke her ankle and maybe had a cold here and there," Chris said. "But I don't really remember her ever being sick. She didn't like it when things were about her. I don't even think she believes turning 100 is a big deal."
Well, Ruth, it is a big deal. Especially when you hear the story through the eyes of a loving and appreciative son.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.
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