BORN ON JULY FOURTH: Happy Festival for Frederick Centennial | lifestyle


Sunlight streamed through the windows of Brook Hill United Methodist Church on Sunday morning, illuminating the crowded room where Ruth Brickhouse sat, clutching her granddaughter’s hand, and practically vibrating with joy.

In a few hours, Frederick would be filled with the sound of crackling sparklers held by children with sticky fingers as America celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But when some rushed into the store to buy last-minute entries for the July 4th BBQ, Brook Hill parishioners had another birthday on their minds.

Brickhouse turned 100 – a milestone that less than one percent of the American population lives for. And her church, which she has attended since she was 14, couldn’t have been more excited to help her celebrate.

In the front of the room, Pastor Linda Warehime stood next to the guest of honor, who wore a red, white, and blue flower crown in his hair. Warehime beamed – and the room lit up with laughter – when Brickhouse asked her to turn on the microphone she was clutching.

“I love my Brook Hill family, and I especially love my immediate family,” Brickhouse told the audience through the microphone. “Thank you and God bless you all.”

Since Brickhouse was born on July 4th, 1921, she has seen America become brutalized by war, economic turmoil, and a deadly pandemic. She lived for Neil Armstrong’s stroll in space, inventing the microwave – and the internet – and building the Empire State Building. And she witnessed most of these milestones living on the same street within walking distance of Brook Hill United Methodist Church.

When Brookhouse was little, her family lived in a big white house on Yellow Springs Road, where her father ran a country shop and supplied the town with eggs, bananas, cheese, work shoes – everything you need. He even sold ice cream before the district health department shut down that part of the operation, Brickhouse recalled with a laugh.

She had a happy childhood filled with memories of playing soccer, hockey and running around with her older brother – her best buddy since she was born. Her father played the bass horn in three local bands, and she always sat next to him during rehearsals. Her mother had a huge garden and loved to cook – two hobbies that she passed on to Brickhouse. Though she doesn’t cook too often anymore, Brickhouse still has a vegetable garden along her driveway that her granddaughter, Angie Brickhouse, envies.

“Every year I think, ‘This will be the year mine is better than yours,’ and it never is,” Angie told her grandmother’s parishioners on Sunday, laughing and shaking her head.

After Brickhouse graduated from Elm Street High School in 1939, she worked at Frederick Memorial Hospital, now known as Frederick Health Hospital. She later had a brief stint at the Pentagon, during which time she lived in Washington, DC. She didn’t like it there, said Brickhouse, giggling at the memory. Within a year she had returned to Frederick, where she got a position as cashier for Fort Detrick.

As it turned out, their move was worth it. She was still working at Fort Detrick when she agreed to date Delton Brickhouse – a man who was stationed at the military base and would later become her 40-year-old husband and father to their two sons.

Soon after Delton and Ruth got married, they began building a cute little house on Yellow Springs Road.

“My husband said, ‘If this sells, we’ll buy it,'” Brickhouse recalled. “And we did.”

70 years later, Brickhouse still lives in the same house. Here she raised her two children and later babysat Angie until she was 10 years old. A lot has changed in the area over the years, Brickhouse said – the dirt road that used to run in front of their home has been paved and the thicket of trees that once surrounded it has been thinned to make way for more houses.

But after all these years, Brickhouse is still an active member of the Brook Hill United Methodist community. After her retirement, she founded the “Wise Owls Club”, a social group for parishioners aged 55 and over that meets regularly. She made over 300 crosses out of plastic, canvas, and thread that were given to the homeless, residents of nursing homes and hospitals, and anyone else who might need one. She has also written over a dozen poems, which are summarized in a book that has her favorite Bible verse on the cover.

When asked to recite it on a new morning, a big smile spread across her face.

“This is the day the Lord made,” she said. “We will be happy and happy about it.”

On Sunday mornings, Brickhouse was not lacking in honors and gifts; Thanks to the efforts of her Brick House family, she received quotes from Governor Larry Hogan, US Senator Bed Cardin, and President Joe Biden who each congratulated her on her 100th birthday. Another congregation crocheted a red, white, and blue prayer shawl for her, while others filled a basket with cards. When Warehime gave her a gift card to buy snow-legged crab legs from the grocery store – something Brickhouse often complains about is too expensive – she gasped and raised her hands to the sky, causing the room to burst into laughter.

But no matter how excited she was about free seafood, it was clear that Brickhouse enjoyed the most just hanging out with family and friends. Every time someone leaned down to wish her a happy birthday, she took both of her hands and stared deeply into their eyes and beamed. She practically glowed with love as Angie gave a speech about her life and remembered how proud Brickhouse used to be when she was recognized as “Angie’s Grandma” by a classmate of her granddaughter.

“Over the years your friends recognized me and said, ‘Aren’t you Ruth’s granddaughter?'” Said Angie. “I understand your pride because there is nothing I would rather be.”

Meanwhile, Brickhouse asks itself a question: what is the secret of such a long and happy life?

She has a relatively simple answer.

“Stay active, go to church and love everyone,” she said, her face twisting into a big grin. “Love is an important thing.”

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @ 24_angier