By Bonnie Cavanaugh
One hundred years ago in 1918, America was entrenched in World War I, the Spanish flu was killing millions of people worldwide, and the Romanov family, including young Anastasia, was executed by the Bolsheviks.
And on Oct. 9, 1918 in Oklahoma, Edna Siriani was born. The centenarian and Budd Lake resident was honored on her birthday last month with a lunch celebration at the Budd Lake Diner, planned by diner owner Fontini Jelis, better known as Faye, and Siriani’s niece and caretaker, Tammy Gast, also of Budd Lake.
“Faye said you’ve got to bring her in for lunch on her birthday,” Gast says. The pair had reached out to Mayor Robert Greenbaum but his schedule was tight and he couldn’t make it, she adds.
“It was a big party,” Gast says. “The police and rescue squad all showed up. Two officers came and had coffee with us, and the rescue squad and customers all came over to wish her a happy birthday.”
“I said, why don’t you bring her to the diner, we’ll treat her,” Jelis notes, adding, “A nice lady I didn’t even know picked up the check.”
Going to the diner is one of Siriani’s favorite activities, where she can socialize with the other customers and Faye and the wait staff, whom she considers friends. Siriani, through her niece, says she enjoyed her party and is grateful.
“She absolutely loves going to the Budd Lake Diner,” Gast says. “They all know her here.”
Jelis says she remembers Siriani coming to the diner “forever.”
“She walks in her own,” Jelis says. “I see her at least once a week, sometimes more. When they’re ready to come in, they call so they can have one of the booths in the front. They don’t want to walk very far.”
“She’s very sweet. She doesn’t look it either, 100,” Jelis adds.
Siriani lived for many years in Yuma, Ariz. before moving with her husband to Des Moines, Iowa. After his passing, she returned to Yuma; upon her mother’s passing several years later, she was lured to Budd Lake by her remaining relatives.
“She was all alone in Arizona,” Gast recalls. Siriani is the last of her immediate family on both sides. “We said, you’ve got to come back here to be with family.” She’s been in Budd Lake for 19 years now.
Although Gast tends to her “Auntie’s” needs, Siriani lives alone and prepares her own foods. She is hard of hearing and has limited vision, so Gast developed a kitchen plan that allows Siriani to prepare foods more easily.
“We worked out different things so that she can still do some cooking on her own because she still likes to cook. She’s got a toaster oven she uses, and she has her deep fry,” Gast explains. Carpal tunnel prevents her from using her oven.
Gast says “Auntie Edna” never thought she would live so long, and certainly never thought her only sister would die before her. Siriani lost her father when she was two years old to walking typhoid; he was only 23. Her sister also had it, but recovered.
“We say Auntie’s going to outlive all of us,” Gast says. Siriani’s extended family now includes a great-great-great-nephew, who is just three months old. “She wouldn’t mind living her life again.”