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For 105th birthday, a touching gathering - minus the physical contact

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DALTON — Not even COVID-19 could keep Lily Watkins' family from celebrating her 105th birthday with her.

Watkins, who resides at the Craneville Place of Dalton Rehab and Nursing Center, was surprised Saturday when about 20 of her family members arrived with signs and balloons to celebrate the milestone with her. New virus safety guidelines prevented the group from entering the building or having any physical contact with Watkins. Instead, the family gathered outside the center's gated patio and delivered their birthday greetings to Watkins on the other side of a metal fence.

Despite everyone being glad to spend the time together and celebrate, the change in circumstances still was bittersweet.

"It's the first time in almost 60 years I haven't been able to kiss and hug her on her birthday," said Watkins' granddaughter, Jill Tetreault. "It's quite hard on all of us."

Watkins wasn't immune from the emotional weight of the day, tearing up when the family began saying its goodbyes and blowing kisses to her from the other side of the fence.

Tetreault said the original plan was to simply wish her grandmother a happy birthday and sing to her from outside her window, but she asked Craneville if the outdoor visit could be arranged, weather permitting.

Normally, Tetreault said, the family would spend Watkins' birthday in the building, celebrating with gifts, pizza, cake and ice cream.

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She said Watkins is fully aware of the need for the change in circumstances.

In fact, Tetreault said, her grandmother has memories of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which began when she was about 3 and lasted well into 1919, and that has given her some context for what's happening now.

"She knows how bad it is, because she lived through it," Tetreault said.

Watkins has lived at Craneville for about three years, said Tetreault, who praised the staff that looks after her.

"These people, they love her so much," she said.

Tetrault said her grandmother never has drank, smoked or used any curse words more harsh than "fiddlesticks."

"Everybody loves her," she said. "She's a special lady."

Bob Dunn can be reached at and @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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