Lillian Paul usually eats lunch at the Horn & Horn Buffet in Glen Burnie on Sundays, right after church.
But Saturday was different. It promised flowers, gifts, a cake with sparklers, cards and friends. It was, after all, Paul's 98th birthday. And she loved every minute of it.
"This is such a big surprise," she said. "I am thankful for my life -- that I am able to talk to people."
Paul has been coming to Horn & Horn restaurants ever since she can remember. Her father, who ran a meat market on Lexington Avenue, took her to an outlet in Baltimore when she was a little girl.
And she continues the habit today,following the restaurants from Harundale Mall to Severna Park to Glen Burnie.
It was at the restaurant that she met one of her best friends, Millie Waggoner, who has been a cashier and waitress at the chain for 26 years.
"She comes in every Sunday and Millie grabs her and walks her through," said Dan Gassway, who has been cutting Paul'smeat -- a slice of ham and a slice of roast beef -- at the buffet for the past year. "She is one of our special customers."
Paul spends most of her time now helping out at the Pasadena United Methodist Church. She had to give up dancing a few years ago.
"Now, I have tocut down on my activities," she said, adding that she became interested in dancing because her father belonged to clubs. "He was short and fat and he was so good," she said.
Paul was born in 1894 in Northwest Baltimore. The oldest of six daughters, she is the only one of her sisters still living. She married William H. Paul, an insurance salesman, in 1914, and continued to work as a clerk for Hochschild Kohn and Co., a department store on Howard and Lexington in downtown Baltimore that went out of business about 15 years ago. William Paul died in 1958.
She started at the store as a clerk when she was a teen-ager and stayed on 70 years. "I would have been made something else,but I had to stay home to take care of my mother," she said. Her mother, Annie Helstein, lived to be 98 years old.
Paul now lives withher 72-year-old son, W. Gibson Paul, in Severna Park.
And everyone but Lillian Paul was certain they would all be back in two years tocelebrate a century of living.
"Hope you have many, many more birthdays," Waggoner said.
"How could I?" Paul answered.