Flora E. Garbe doesn't sit still very often. At 88 years old, she is always finding something to do, especially when there are more cookies and cards to send to troops or scarves and blankets to knit for wounded veterans.
Despite a pacemaker, two bouts with breast cancer, an artificial finger and blindness in one eye, Garbe paints -- in all mediums -- sings, bakes, crochets and does needlepoint, mostly to benefit others.
Her modest Montgomery Village condo is filled with her prolific handiwork. Garbe's latest project is neatly folded in her study -- a dozen red, white and blue afghans for injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The soft, bright blankets -- mementos of Garbe's passion and patriotism -- fit snugly over the laps of soldiers in wheelchairs. Some have already taken them home.
"I lay in bed in the morning and think, 'What am I going to do today,' " said Garbe, who moved to the county seven years ago. "I have to have a purpose for getting up. I just like doing things for people."
Garbe's husband, Ed, 90, a retired civil engineer, is the driving force behind her activism. He chauffeurs her everywhere and doesn't miss a chance to tell others -- such as the manager at the Michael's craft store in Germantown where she buys yarn for the afghans -- what she is doing. Now, she gets a discount.
"She'll knit in the car," Ed Garbe said. "She knits in church."
Garbe's grandson, Army Lt. Col. Steve Roth, who has been the motivation for much of his grandmother's giving, recalls that she was knitting all the time when he was growing up on Long Island.
"I remember that clickety-clack sound while we were sitting in her living room watching TV," Roth said.
While stationed in Germany in the mid-1990s, Roth mentioned in a letter to his grandmother that his unit had devoured the chocolate chip cranberry cookies he had brought back from a holiday visit.
Garbe leapt into action. She and her husband launched a cookie-baking convention, spreading the word though the small, rural town of Woodstock, N.Y. She baked between five and six dozen cookies a day.
Within a year, she had shipped, at her own expense, $1,500 worth of cookies.
"We turned our guest room into a regular post office," Garbe said, chuckling. Every week, she mailed three huge cartons of cookies. "I couldn't lift them," she said.
That was her husband's job. "They would see us coming and say, 'Oh, not again,' " Garbe said.
But she returned week after week for nine months, receiving citations and medals from her grandson's commander in Germany.
"I started sending them to the young soldiers in Hungary and Bosnia," said Roth, who is now a hospital administrator for the U.S. Army Surgeon General's office in Falls Church. "Basically, the whole town of Woodstock was sending us cookies." He arranged for the crates of cookies to go through the unit's chaplain, so they could reach troops in combat more quickly.
At Walter Reed, the colorful afghans have been a perfect fit for soldiers in wheelchairs, said Aster Black, station manager of the American Red Cross at Walter Reed.
"That's what we really needed," she said. She and the hospital's chaplain have given out about a dozen afghans.
"They are just absolutely beautiful," Black said. "The soldiers tell me they are warm."
Since arriving at Walter Reed in August, Black said she has been struck by the tremendous volume of donations.
"Some people give time, others give money," Black said. "The thoughtfulness, the care really makes a difference. These afghans are above value."
Garbe's generosity has long been intertwined with military service.
In 1939, when Great Britain entered World War II, Ed Garbe worked as an executive for Royal Globe Insurance, a British-based company. He enlisted his wife in the "Knittin' for Britain" brigade, making scarves and mittens for soldiers.
Flora Garbe, who owned an employment agency on Long Island and was honored by then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller as Businesswoman of the Year in 1968, has been knitting since she started walking. As a young girl growing up in Queens, N.Y., her mother took wooden meat skewers from the local butcher, chopped off the sharp ends and used them as knitting needles to teach her how to knit.
"Mother's middle name should be 'Involved,' " said Sue Roth of Montgomery Village, Garbe's daughter. "Whenever you need something for somebody, mother is always there."