The lobby of Grandell Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Long Beach filled with laughter when nurses placed candles on Goldie Steinberg's birthday cake Friday - they were 100 candles short.
Steinberg, who turned 109 Friday, took a breath and began blowing out the nine candles - one at a time. With every breath, applause filled the room.
"I want to wish everyone to get old with good health," Steinberg said, holding a microphone provided by a hired musician. "Thank you to all the people who came to celebrate my birthday."
Balloons dangled in the ceiling, lightly brushing the metallic-colored pumpkins as Steinberg sat in a wheelchair decorated with a birthday balloon. Seeing a nurse dancing in a lobster costume, Steinberg said, "that's kosher."
Steinberg's smile was just as big as the smile on each resident and family member's face celebrating her milestone.
"When I was in high school, I remember thinking, 'I hope she will live to see me graduate,' " granddaughter Ellen Schneeweis, 45, of Denver, said. "Now I can't believe it."
Born in Kishinev, Romania - present-day Chisinau, Moldova - on Oct. 30, 1900, and one of eight children, Steinberg came to the United States at age 23 after her uncle offered her and her two sisters an opportunity to leave. She started working as a dressmaker, moved into an apartment in Brooklyn and had two children with her husband, Philip Steinberg, who died in 1967. In 1932, she and her husband moved into an apartment in Brooklyn that she stayed in for 72 years - until 2004.
She moved into the Grandell facility to be closer to her daughter Ann Teicher, 67, who lives nearby.
Now Steinberg spends her free time watching the Yankees, crocheting and helping other residents. A year ago, the center's bookkeeper, Barbara Ruderman, brought her 72-year-old mother for rehabilitation. "Goldie took care of her," Ruderman said. "She made sure she was eating and getting up in the morning."
"She has always been so independent," Teicher said. "But she is always thinking about everyone else."
Steinberg helps nonambulatory residents, pushing them in wheelchairs from here to there, nursing center employees said.
"We should give her 109 candles," said Jennifer Kutner of Massapequa Park, Steinberg's granddaughter-in-law. "She lived that long, she deserves it."
Steinberg has one secret to living to be 109 - "My family," she said with pride.
A CONVERSATION WITH GOLDIE
Q: What is the secret to living to be 109 years old?
A: Having good children.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I crochet, read the paper and spend time with my family.
Q: What is your most memorable moment?
A: My family, all eight of us, with my mother and my father in Romania. They gave me memories I can't forget.
Q: Who is your favorite Yankee?
A: They were all good. I love watching the Yankees. I have been watching since my son was in grade school.
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Chicken, but only if it's good.