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Rhyme is her reason for Witkes, 97, in any season.

Byline: Melissa McKeon

WORCESTER - Ann R. Witkes will frankly tell you, if she can't do something everyone else's way, she'll find her own sometimes interesting way.

"I'm a kind of Mrs. Rube Goldberg," she says with a laugh.

So it's probably not a surprise to those who get to know her that Ms. Witkes has also found a way to make those around her smile with her rhymes.

The 97-year-old admits it was a long time ago, but she remembers clearly when her love of rhyming started. She was a schoolgirl of 9 or so when a teacher, "who obviously loved poetry, read to her class some lyric poetry. Ms. Witkes doesn't remember exactly which poet it was, but she does remember the feeling it gave her.

The rhyming, the meter made an impression and stayed with her, even after she came home from school.

"It was like music," she recalled.

Rhymes began to take shape in her head as she listened to people talk. Eventually, she began to share them out loud, something she frankly admits made her friends tell her that she sounded, well, a little crazy.

"So I'm crazy, so what?" she said, laughing.

She didn't stop writing rhyming poems, though she saves her rhymes for her special communications with family, friends and anyone with whom she might communicate.

She remembers as a child being told by her mother that she shouldn't spend her money on a card for her birthday.

"Just write me a poem," she told her.

Her daughter went one better: She bought the card and wrote the poem. That's become something she's famous for in her family: Everyone looks forward to a card from her - with a little rhyme as well.

Her rhyming gift isn't confined to notes on cards, however; Ms. Witkes likes to write family stories in rhyme.

"I can talk a blue streak," she says. "So I can write it, too!"

Three printed pages bear witness to the story of a holiday vacation with her son and his family. A cousin recalls that Ms. Witkes also wrote down her memory of her mother's family story, in rhyming poetry, of course.

It may be that lyrical turn she gives everything (even if only in her own imagination sometimes) that has given Ms. Witkes the strength to endure, though she'll also admit she's been fortunate.

As a young girl growing up in Worcester, she remembers being the child who always had bumps and bruises, always caught every illness that came her way.

Perhaps it was whatever sympathy she had for those similarly afflicted that gave her the idea to grow up and be a nurse. Her father, ever protective of his daughter, didn't like the idea of his daughter performing the indelicate tasks nurses were charged with.

"I said, `Papa, what should I be?'" she recalled.

Her father, a barber, suggested hairdressing, the job that became her career. In her early 20s she married and began raising her three sons, her pride and joy.

After retirement, she moved from Worcester to Florida, and, after her husband's passing she found herself at the center of her children's concern.

"`What are you going to do now,' they were asking me," she recalled. "I told them, I'll survive."

One day, Ms. Witkes answered her door to find a delivery awaiting her. As someone who regularly ordered from catalogues, that was no surprise, but the size of the box was.

"It's a computer," the delivery man told her.

"I thought it must be a mistake," she recalled.

Undaunted in her 90s by learning something new, Ms. Witkes enlisted a friend's son to teach her to use the computer and to email, so that she could stay in touch with her many friends and keep her rhyming messages going.

She acquired a computer desk and special chair as well.

Not long ago some injuries made sitting at her computer desk difficult.

"So what do my kids do? They bought me a laptop," she said.

The 97-year-old learned a few new skills to use the laptop.

Always considerate and ever grateful for her children's attentions, Ms. Witkes admits, she didn't like the idea of imposing a mother-in-law on her married sons and their wives, "the most darling, dearest daughters-in-law."

When she realized she could no longer live on her own, she returned from Florida and with her son visited the Eisenberg Assisted Living Center on Salisbury Street, where she lived until just last year when injuries necessitated the move to the Jewish Healthcare Center next door.

In spite of living in a nursing home and facing her 98th birthday, Ms. Witkes is still spreading cheer to her children, her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and the staff of the nursing home. Sometimes, since a rotator cuff injury, she's not able to use her laptop, either. It doesn't slow down the rhymes.

She's still able to read and watch television, talk with folks on her cellphone, and write a little note now and then - in rhyme, of course.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: JOHN FERRARONE

CUTLINE: Ann R. Witkes, 97, a resident at the Jewish Healthcare Center on Salisbury Street, has written poems, emails and family stories - all in rhyme.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 21, 2012
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