A Christmas Gift that Keeps Giving

Flo Conklin was born on Christmas Day.


In 1922.


She works as a cafeteria hostess at Evergreen Mill Elementary every day, as she has since the school opened in 1998.


As she approached her 96th birthday, Flo talked about what keeps her going.


“I like being around the children… I just like being around children.” (She noted she’s helped with primary students at her church’s Sunday School for years.)


Flo started working as a cafeteria hostess after her husband passed away in 1995. “I said ‘I better get a job.’ I was 73 then.” She started working at Leesburg Elementary and transferred to Evergreen Mill when it opened because it was closer to her home.


Flo first came to the Washington, D.C., area from Pennsylvania in 1948 to work as a clerk/typist at the Pentagon. A cousin contacted her about a job opening there. “I thought about it a long time; I had never been away from home. I said, ‘I think I’ll go and get out of this town, where there’s nothing.”


Flo said life was hard during her childhood.


“It wasn’t easy, going through the Depression. Things were kind of tough. My mother had to go into a mental institution, so my dad more or less raised my sister and myself. My father lost the house and we moved into my grandfather’s garage. It was just one big room. It was tough.”


She got married in 1952 and had two children; a daughter was born in 1957, a son in 1960. Flo quit work to raise a family and was unemployed until she took the Leesburg Elementary job. “I needed to do something, even if it was only two hours a day.”


Beyond her job, Flo keeps busy. “I go home, and I do things like laundry, put dishes into and out of the dishwasher and clean my own area and that keeps me busy…


“Most of the summer I’m out in the yard cutting grass or pulling weeds or planting something. But I didn’t get a lot done last summer.”


Flo said she was doing some landscaping when she tried to pull a plant out by the roots. “I pulled and I pulled and I pulled and, all of a sudden, it broke loose and I flew backwards; I don’t know how many feet. Hit my head in the grass and I’ve had a stiff neck and back problems ever since.”


But the injuries haven’t slowed her down much.


Flo loves to paint. Right now, she’s painting cardinals on ornamental balls. She likes to crochet, read, work outside.


“Since I didn’t have a mom, I was kind of mom around the house; did the dishes, did the cooking early on. I just keep busy…You’ve got to move. You’ve got to move your body. I move my body pretty much. I get enough exercise here wiping tables and benches and running after children and what not. I don’t run so fast anymore. But I like to work. I like to keep busy.”


Flo lives among extended family; her two children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. She stopped driving about five years ago. “I thought I would die. I just can’t jump in my car and get some groceries… It still affects me. I can’t go anywhere without asking someone to take me. Drives me crazy to ask someone to do something for me.”


Despite being born on a premiere holiday, Flo said she doesn’t do much celebrating on her birthday. “When I was young we didn’t have birthday parties; we couldn’t afford anything like that.” One year, her husband staged a surprise party for her after taking Flo out. “When we got back home I said ‘Oh my golly, look at all the cars out here. Boy, the neighbors are really having a lot of company.’ I walked in the house and it was a birthday party. I think it’s the only birthday party I can remember.”


Lack of celebration doesn’t mean that Flo’s not a big fan of Christmas.


“I love Christmas. No matter what age, it’s exciting to go out shopping and getting people things. I like to give things.”


She’s scaled back her shopping, however.


“I think this year my daughter will get on Amazon and get a bunch of cards for me. That’s about all I can do. I can’t run around.”


But she’ll still make candy to give as a gift. “So it’s something personal.”  


Looking ahead, Flo said she has no thought of retiring.


“I’ll go until I drop. Whenever that is.”