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Holiday Memories — Alive and Well in Real Time

Can't get in the Christmas spirit? Going through a holiday downer? Don't tell that to seniors who assembled at The Old Country Buffet for the annual holiday party — with Santa.

More than 150 seniors from throughout the Mount Vernon District, Alexandria and even the District of Columbia, converged on Monday to share two hours of holiday fellowship over lunch, music, dancing and a greeting from the jolly round guy from the North.

Senior Day, initiated nearly five years ago by manager Kelly Greenwood, is held the third Monday of each month at the restaurant, located at 7820 Richmond Highway. But the December gathering is particularly special.

"We get groups from a variety of assisted-living facilities in the area, church groups, neighborhoods, apartment units, senior centers and just regulars. They come by car and bus loads," Greenwood explained. "They travel from as far as Indian Head, Md., and the District."

One of the more distant groups for the seasonal festivity was a busload of 16 from an apartment complex in Northwest Washington. "We come to this area once a month to shop. When we heard about Senior Day here, we changed our day from Thursday to Monday just to be here," said Sandra Butler-Truesdale, leader of the group.

"We have a ball. If we could get a bigger bus, there'd be a lot more of us," she insisted.

ONE OF THOSE having the most fun was Rachel Tucker from Mount Vernon House. Monday was her 100th birthday. She was surrounded by friends and well-wishers and got a special visit from Santa, otherwise known as Stephen Behrens.

Originally from Lynchburg, Va., Tucker has lived in the Alexandria/Mount Vernon area for the past 20-plus years after retiring from private in-home nursing.

"I've been coming here since Kelly started Senior Day. I wouldn't miss it, especially the Christmas party," Tucker proclaimed, dressed in her red outfit for this special day.

At another table, directly in front of Bert Nelbach, the retired DJ who spins records every Senior Day for dancing and serves as informal master of ceremonies, was another contingent from Mount Vernon House. "This is the best," Peggy Webster, Evelyn Clark, Margaret Dowey and Bea Neff chimed in chorus, as they encircled Santa for a holiday photo keepsake.

ONE OF THE largest groups was headed by Rae Crabtree and composed of neighbors from the Virginia Hills area of Alexandria. "I always try to get a big group to attend. We have such a great time here, and the holiday gathering is especially important to us," she said.

Not to be outdone was the Hollin Hall Senior Center delegation. "We have been coming from the beginning, when they used to have a guitar player before the DJ," said Renata Lynch. "We love to dance and circulate around the room to see everyone."

Seated with her at a table that gave easy access to the dancing area were Gloria Constantino, Mickey Heffner and Lina Olschaer.

As the voices of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters filled the room, the years seemed to fade away, and it was a different holiday time — that of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and for Rachel Tucker, an era when sleighbells really did ring.