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Pretty cool having Aunt Betty as my neighbor

It’s pretty cool being next-door neighbors with Aunt Betty.

That’s a definite perk of returning to my roots and living in the family homestead where my father was born, where Houts have lived continuously since the house was built in the 1880s, and where my dad lived in his adult married life, raising a family next door to his brother, my Uncle Howard, and his wife, my Aunt Betty, and their family.

Aunt Betty has always been a special part of my life and all her family and circle of friends for that matter.

She’s a gem, I was reminded yet again when we were invited next door to her house on Thursday.

The occasion was the celebration of her 99th birthday.

Ninety-nine!!!

You’d think a person would feel different turning 100 minus 1, but not Aunt Betty, who admitted to feeling just the same, albeit relieved she’d passed her test for her driver’s license renewal that she had taken in recent days.

Her eyesight is way better than the vision of those decades younger, she was assured.

“Fine at 99” read her Gus’ Goodies’ cake but what an understatement. We sang “Happy Birthday” naturally, but I sing her praises louder.

Aunt Betty is the Energizer Bunny matriarch of our family, a remarkable lady.

She’s hip. Independent. Informed. Active. Always ready to travel. Sharp as a tack, so the saying goes.

She has a great laugh that makes you feel good when you hear her chuckle.

Some people just always look the same to me and never change, a category Aunt Betty falls into the same as my fourth-grade teacher from Richmond Elementary School — Marge Alpino, a woman I continue to tease as being the poster child for industrial strength Oil of Olay. Or, like Aunt Betty, the beneficiary of incredible genes, perhaps.

Aunt Betty always makes a fuss, always makes you feel special and always makes you feel welcomed, whether it’s an extended-invitation visit or a spontaneous one.

Such qualities of hospitality aren’t lost on me or unappreciated. I marvel at the standard she has set and demonstrated through the years as a gracious hostess, which is more of a reflex than an effort on her part.

Though her kitchen island is small, it never ceases to amaze me how much food she could spread out on it for her buffet-style holiday meals and picnics.

It was that way for her birthday celebration, too, no surprise.

In a time where we might not even know who our neighbors are, I think what a great thing to have Aunt Betty close at hand, especially when a phone call comes from her, bringing the announcement of welcomed news.

She’s cooked us a batch of green beans freshly picked from her garden, beans flavored with onions and bacon and made in a pressure cooker.

There are no better beans.

And there is no one like Aunt Betty.

I don’t know if every family is lucky enough to have an Aunt Betty, but they’re surely missing out.

God bless Aunt Betty because he’s surely blessed us with her.

(Kiaski, a resident of Richmond, is a staff columnist and community editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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