The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has become the great disrupter, challenging everyone to adjust to a new normal. But there are some things that COVID-19 cannot touch.
When Harley and Virginia Affeldt moved to Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Community in August 2019, they never could have imagined that less than a year later, they would be required to shelter in place in their apartment due to the COVID-19 outbreak, isolated from family and friends. The restrictions Arbor Acres put into place to keep residents and staff safe from COVID-19, however, did not prevent Virginia from carrying out a sweet, 68-year-old tradition.
Every year since they first married, Virginia has arisen early on the morning of Harley’s birthday, March 31, to set the stage for Harley’s annual birthday “surprise.” This year was no different.
To honor Harley’s 94th birthday, Virginia, also 94, did what she has done for the past 68 years – she got up before Harley and spelled out “I LOVE U” in toothpicks on the kitchen table. Then she placed Harley’s birthday cards next to his plate for him to open over breakfast.
Virginia doesn’t remember exactly what first inspired her to start what turned into an annual tradition—she only remembers that the night before Harley’s first birthday after they were married, she decided to do something to surprise Harley the next morning. She looked around, saw some toothpicks, and decided, “Why not?”
This year Harley and Virginia both received a surprise. As they were settling down for breakfast, they heard a knock on their apartment door. Standing there was an Arbor Acres employee with a special delivery: a birthday cake for Harley from their son, Jim, in Virginia, who coordinated with Arbor Acres to arrange the surprise since he couldn’t celebrate with his parents in person.
Harley and Virginia have deeps roots in the Winston-Salem community. Harley was the first employee of Forsyth Technical Community College in 1960, and a few years later became the college’s second president. Harley and Virginia, lifelong Methodists, are long-time members of Trinity United Methodist Church. The story of their annual “toothpicks” birthday ritual has travelled near- and now, far.
When Arbor Acres posted their story on its Facebook page, it generated more than 900 “Likes,” attracted at least 100 comments and was shared 50 times. As a result, Harley and Virginia have been inundated with phone calls and cards from old friends in town as well as well wishes from strangers across the country.
The fear and uncertainty brought on by a worldwide pandemic cannot interfere with a simple family tradition with its message of love, joy and hope.
Originally published on The Chronicle