Florence Metz, a retired North Bay teacher who has been confined to her home these days, as most of us have, also lived through the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, which most of us decidedly did not.
But does she remember it?
“I don’t have to remember everything,” she retorted in a phone interview.
Metz was a toddler at the time, so no — she doesn’t have to. She turns 105 on Sept. 18, when she will be fêted at a virtual party hosted by Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa.
“I’m sad I can’t travel to California to celebrate with her in person,” her daughter, Susan Bindman, said by phone from her home in England. “She’s a most remarkable woman.”
Carolyn Metz, Florence’s former daughter-in-law, concurs.
“It is amazing; she is amazing,” said Metz, who is the mother of five of Florence’s seven grandchildren and serves as president of Beth Ami. She says Florence was a regular at the Conservative shul before this current pandemic and has continued to attend Saturday services with Rabbi Mordecai Miller via Zoom.
The broad facts of her life — or headlines, as Florence might say — support that claim. Born Florence Hecht in Brooklyn in 1915, she describes her Jewish family as “very supportive, with good standards. Whoever you were, you were treated with respect,” she said.
After graduating from Brooklyn College, she worked several editorial jobs in the city, including a stint at Stag, a now-defunct men’s magazine.
“I have a letter from Upton Sinclair, complimenting me on my editing skills,” she said. “He expressed surprise that Stag had a woman editor.”
Metz set her goals higher, however, and enrolled in Columbia University to get a master’s degree in English. After completing the program, she was on track for a Ph.D. when she decided to marry Herman M. Metz and have a family. She later went to work as a high school English teacher in the New York City public schools, pronouncing it “as good an education as you could hope to get anywhere, at the time.”
“She has had a lasting influence on many, including my own children, when it came to imposing high standards for reading, writing, speaking and comprehension of the English language,” said Carolyn Metz. “I still go to her when I want to confirm a particular phrase or proper use of the comma.”
After her husband died, Florence remained in New York until 1979, when she moved to Santa Rosa to be closer to her son, John Metz.
“It was a toss-up between California and England, where my daughter lives,” she said. “I thought that since I speak American English, California was a better decision.”
Congregation Beth Ami has proven to be a Jewish community compatible with Florence’s beliefs.
“I think Judaism is an all-inclusive religion in that we pray for everybody,” she said. “I think every religion — if it does what it professes — is fine. My feeling is that if God is omniscient and omnipresent, we don’t need intermediaries. We are responsible for ourselves.”
Caretaker Lily Evans, who came into Florence’s life when she was about 100, says that Florence is still mobile and walks every day, though the pandemic has for the most part put the kibosh on outdoor activity. She is an active participant in family and community life, resisting and decrying the persistence of ageism in American society: “Ageism really gets to me. I think it’s blood on the escutcheon,” Metz said.
According to Evans, she loves to do puzzles, has a good sense of humor and celebrates life. She also eats healthy foods and avoids sweets.
“She weighs herself every Wednesday, and won’t let her weight go above 110 pounds or fall below 100,” Evans said.
Metz credits her longevity to “good genes” — her father almost made it to 94 — but also says “I try to live properly.”
She gave up her favored L&M king-size filter cigarettes when she learned that smoking was bad for you. What else keeps her so vital?
“I don’t drink alcohol,” she explained. “And I’m celibate!”