When Margaret Harris moved into her home on Brook Lane in Greenbrier in 1949, Brook Lane itself didn't even exist. The movers had to park on Hillen Road and walk the furniture through the backyard mud on wooden planks, and they had to bring everything in through the back door.
Sixty-three years later, on Thursday of this week, Harris sat on the front porch of that same house and greeted and accepted well wishes from neighbors, all of whom came help her celebrate her 100th birthday.
Harris, who bought the neighborhood's first house with her husband Roy, and who has lived there ever since, emerged onto those steps as dusk settled to a celebration that included dozens of neighbors, young and old.
"My God," Harris said. "I won't sleep for a week."
The celebration was a surprise. It wasn't hard for Harris' family — which consists of her daughter Lynne Mullin, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren — to keep Harris in the dark as the party was set up in her front yard.
She had requested Kentucky Fried Chicken, and was seated at a place at the table where she couldn't see the balloons going outside on her railings or the cake being brought from across the street.
"When they said it was time, we just said to her 'Come out and watch the kids, they're doing something crazy,' " Mullin said. "I walked her in and the bagpipes were playing and she said 'What's all that commotion?' And then she started to cry."
Harris was deeply moved by the party, pulling everyone who came up to her chair on the front porch in for a hug and wiping away tears as they walked away.
"The nice thing is all these people have come up and said 'hello' to her and talked to her," Mullin said. "It's really quite rewarding to know that she's so well liked."
Many of the gathered crowd had fond words and anecdotes about Harris, who rides her stationary bike every day and is known to make a "lifetime supply" of ice cream for some people disappear from her freezer in mere days.
Karolyn Seidl, who lives next door, said her own award-winning garden was begun by plants given to her from the Harris' own "fantastic garden" behind her home.
"They've just been wonderful neighbors," she said.
David Sann, president of the Greenbrier Community Association, said he appreciated Harris' cooperation several years ago when he did a story for the community newsletter about Harris and her daughter riding the final passenger train on the Ma and Pa railroad from Stevenson Lane to downtown Baltimore.
"It's just remarkable the changes that she's seen," Sann said. "This was country."
Indeed, so country that Mullin said her mother initially didn't want to leave the city — she feared it would be too hard to get around, and too difficult to get to the city.
The model home she and Roy bought on Brook Lane was located right in the heart of what Mullin called "Neighborhood, USA," a place where neighbors share house keys and look after one another.
"This has always been family-oriented, but close to everything," she said. "It's really been a nice experience for her. The neighbors were outstanding."
As has happened in many of Towson's neighborhoods, many of Harris' generation — the original homeowners — have made way for younger families, but Harris said the newer families are just as good as the originals.
Next-door neighbor Megan Levis, one of the community members who threw the surprise party, said one of her first memories after moving in stemmed from when she strung Christmas lights on her back porch ... a little out of season.
Next time they spoke, Harris asked her to leave them on all the time. She said they reminded her of the parties they used to throw when she was young.