34 years later, fast friends gorge on pre-Thanksgiving dinner

Posted: November 20, 2012

CECELIA KELLY and Marguerite Dobson met 34 years ago at a senior center in Southwest Philadelphia.

Dobson, now 85, was a volunteer. Kelly, now 90, sat alone that day, lonely and sad. Her mother had just died and she wanted company. She'd never been to the center before. She looked around, spotted Dobson's warm smile with crinkles around her eyes, and mustered enough courage to walk over.

"Can I sit here?" Kelly asked her.

The two Irish women, both born in the Roaring Twenties, a decade of Prohibition, Flappers and the first "talkies," hit it off and became best friends. "We're like sisters, blood sisters," Dobson said.

Kelly, sporting a sparkling pink hat over an auburn wig of tight curls, nodded. "Yes, we are."

The two women sat elbow to elbow Sunday afternoon at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging's annual Thanksgiving dinner for about 250 older adults. For some, this was their only holiday meal.

"This is it," said Lee Natson, 82, sitting in a wheelchair.

Kelly, Dobson and Natson devoured turkey and gravy, stuffing, potatoes, mixed vegetables and pie. Reading Terminal Market vendors donated the food and SEPTA hosted the holiday dinner at the Market East station.

"I don't have my teeth anymore, but I can still eat real good," Kelly said with a toothless grin. "I had dentures way back, but I left them in a suitcase 50 years ago. Didn't like 'em."

"Yeah, she can't bite you," Dobson quipped, "but she can squeeze you to death," referring to Kelly's bearhugs.

Kelly worked two graveyard shifts - at the Navy Yard as a ship-fitting helper and a mail carrier at 30th Street Station, or the "railroad" as she calls it. She married a Navy man in 1947, but had no children. "I had a crib death in 1949," she said softly.

The marriage lasted just 14 years because her husband was a race-car driver and was rarely home.

Dobson, who worked the night shift catering at hotels and was the daughter of a Philadelphia police officer, was married twice and both husbands died. She has three sons.

Together, Dobson and Kelly always go to Irish Day at Penn's Landing and take bus trips to Atlantic City.

"We go to admire men," Dobson said. They don't gamble, just stand near the blackjack tables and gawk.

Dobson, who walks with a cane, said she's looking for a man who does also. "That way, I can hook him in."

Kelly chuckled. She said the secret to longevity is to avoid doctors. A meat-and-potatoes woman who doesn't drink or smoke, Kelly hasn't had a mammogram, nor has she had blood tests.

"I dismissed all my doctors. I just take garlic pills. I'm a tough Irish girl on garlic pills."

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