The pianist was tinkling "Girl of My Dreams" as the wheelchairs rolled into Mr. L's and Sun on Connecticut Avenue yesterday.
One by one they were wheeled up to their places at the long table, each white-haired guest followed by an attendant, and they put on their cardboard tiaras and party hats, and a few of them blew on their horns for the photographers.
For five years now, Sam Lipowsky and his son Mark have been putting on this "Centenarians Only" party at their deli-restaurant.
"We watch the papers all year," Sam said, "and clip out stuff about old people and invite them here. We had 14 the first year, but it grows. A lot come back every year."
He thinks it is too bad that America -- almost alone among the nations of the world -- neglects its old people so. He never knew his own grandparents.
Now the TV crews and reporters were crowding around this guest and that, doing little interviews:
George Kvastad, 97. He was born in Norway, lived in New York most of his life. He worked for a utility company, liked to go to the horse races. He is the oldest at his nursing home in the Maryland suburbs.
Archie Williams, 98. He was born in Washington, served in World War I, drove a truck for a moving company 44 years and never had an accident. He likes a cigar, but he doesn't drink. Just water and coffee.
Edna Miller, 96. "I don't feel it. I'm from Pennsylvania, had a good business. I was a dressmaker. What's my secret? Don't cheat."
Mary Bryan, 99. "There is no secret. Just keep going." She was born in Georgetown; she never married; her relatives are all dead.
Julia Healy, 101. She has lived here since 1911. "Don't worry," she said. "Worry is the worst thing."
The pianist, Matt Windsor, was playing "Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie," and his partner, Mary Rogers, was singing. She has a master's degree in music. Beside them, Brooke Johns sang along in his blaring baritone. Johns is an old vaudevillian, played banjo on Broadway for seven years, made a movie with Gloria Swanson, knew the Prince of Wales in the '20s.
"Had a birthday Christmas Eve," he said. "Fifty-nine years married. Six children, 16 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren."
He owns half of Olney and runs Brooke Manor Country Club. He is a regular entertainer at nursing homes, though arthritis keeps him from playing the banjo now. He wore black leather gloves and a Christmas vest, Stewart plaid.
When Johns first announced he was going into show business, his mother told his grandmother, "Women and whiskey will kill him." He is 91.
Around the fringes of the party the restaurant staff watched. Amy Rosenblum was there, Mr. L's granddaughter. She is 9 months old. Pretty soon the turkey dinner would be served, and the champagne, and the huge cake, to be cut by the oldest guest. Mr. L's was paying for everything.
As usual, the oldest guest was Alice Ruddy, 108. She was wheeled in by Harry Kirk, who kept telling everybody she was his mother. Kirk is a fellow resident at Carroll Manor in Hyattsville, which sent five guests and their attendants. "I'm 95," Kirk chuckled, "and I brought along my mother to prove it." He also brought a scrapbook, which he showed to the press. He was born in Defiance, Ohio.
Mrs. Ruddy was born in Washington, her attendant said. Until she broke her hip she walked to her bingo game three times a week.
"She loves reporters," he said.
Now the Federal City Four, a barbershop quartet, was singing "I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad." The quartet has been together since 1957, baritone Lew Sims said, and they recently lost their bass, but the substitute sounded just fine. They sang "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight."
A Redskinette was there, in shiny red skivvies. She sat with one guest and then another, talking quietly to them.
A sign above the counter said, "Send a Salami Anywhere in the USA!" At the front was a table of cold cuts and cookies for the press, who by now almost outnumbered the guests. But nobody seemed to be eating much: the press was working, and the guests, well, you don't get to be 100 by eating a lot.
The Redskinette said her name is Janet Bishop and this is her third year. She is 25.