Helen Shifflett?s roots go all the way back to the Mayflower. The soon-to-be 95-year-old is a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, who came to America on that famous ship. Alden was the cooper aboard the vessel, and his job was to construct varying sizes of barrels.
The story goes Miles Standish, who was shy, asked Alden to propose to Mullins for him. Mullins turned her attention to Alden and asked him, ?Why don?t you speak for yourself, John?? And so he did. That started their courtship and eventual marriage.
This is the descendant line that qualified Shifflett to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The line runs through her mother, Hortense Clements. Any woman who can prove her lineal descent from an American Revolution patriot is eligible to join, according to the DAR website.
No matter how far down or how close to her on the family tree, family has seemed to be important to the Asbury Park resident. Even though she earned an undergraduate degree at Iowa State, majoring in household equipment, and a master?s at George Washington University, she raised her three children as a stay-at-home mom. This goes along with her philosophy of life, which isn?t complicated.
?Man does not live by bread alone,? is written on a sign in Shifflett?s room, which her son, Dana, said is her life?s philosophy. It is followed by: ?He must also have peanut butter and jelly.?
?I wouldn?t be able to raise my family without peanut butter and jelly,? Shifflett said, sitting in her Asbury Park room surrounded by photos of her family. ?I can?t imagine not having peanut butter.?
Dana?s siblings are Carol, Linda and Stephen Shifflett.
Before she became a mom, Shifflett started her life?s adventure when she was born July 2, 1919, in the family farm home in Madison County, Iowa.
?Women didn?t go to the hospital to have a baby then,? Shifflett said, while snacking on M&Ms during a warm late March day.
And yes, the county in which Shifflett was born is the one that has the covered bridges that inspired the movie and book. Dana and his mom have seen all seven bridges, but Dana said he?s not sure all still are standing, as people who don?t like the behavior of the characters in the movie have damaged the bridges. The one closest to his parents? old place is called Hogback. On her Asbury Park room door is a vertical painting that has hand-painted likenesses of the bridges. Hog?back now is closed to traffic.
?We used to drive over it regularly,? Dana said.
Shifflett attended Worthington Elementary, a one-room schoolhouse. Shifflett recalled a game she played as a youth. ?Hide and Go Seek would?ve been the most popular, I guess,? she said.
On May 28, 1951, Shifflett married Paul in Iowa, although before that, they had each gone separately to Washington, D.C., to take government jobs. They also had grown up in the same town and knew each other. Paul graduated from Iowa State in 1942 and later retired from the Naval Research Lab, which was the only job he had after college. He was an electronics engineer and was involved in the nuclear program.
Shifflett was on staff with the Signal Corps at Arlington Hall during World War II. Arlington Hall, which is in Arlington, Va., handled Japanese communication signal intercepts, Dana said.
?They broke the Japanese code,? Shifflett said. ?That?s what moved things real fast. They brought a lot of people to D.C. to work on the code.?
While employed there, Shifflett remembers hearing the song ?Cocktails for Two? by Spike Jones for the first time.
?(The song) goes from violins?and soft atmosphere to pandemonium,? Dana said.
Dana said his mother had told him, as the people were working at night, the song disrupted their work, and it took a while for them to gather their thoughts after hearing it.
The children were raised in Accokeek, Md., which is across the river from Mount Vernon, Dana said.
Looking back on his childhood, Dana remembered some of the food his mother used to cook. They?d have chili on Tuesdays, fish on Fridays, hamburgers or hot dogs on Saturdays and usually homemade chicken on Sundays.
?Mom was a good cook ? a really good cook,? Dana said.
His mother also made their birthday cakes, which were two layers of white cake graced with a white seven-minute icing and ?different-colored trim,? Dana and Shifflett said.
?A birthday was not a birthday without one of those cakes,? Dana said.
Paul and Helen Shifflett retired back to Iowa in November 1986.
?They moved back to Iowa well after we were raised,? Dana said.
Paul made 16 trips with a horse trailer back and forth when they moved from Maryland to Worthington, which is in rural Earlham. Shifflett moved to Asbury Park because Dana lives five miles east of the outlet mall in Newton, and he worked at Asbury Park at the time.
?Mom is here because Asbury Park is more affordable and just as good as what was available in Ames, Iowa, where she lived (and brother Steve still does), and because Newton is halfway between Ames and Arlington, Texas, where sister Linda is, and because I?m here,? Dana said. ?I already knew from residents (at Asbury) that the food was good. That was a major consideration.?
In addition to the Mayflower, the Shifflett family has ties to actor John Wayne. Wayne?s family moved from Winterset, Iowa, to Earlham, Iowa, when he was 4 years old. Wayne started attending school in Earlham, in the same building Dana?s father went to school. Wayne, who was born Marion Michael Morrison, was a bit older than Dana?s father. The school became a Masonic hall, and they kept the furniture. Later, the furniture was auctioned, and Dana now has a chair that?s conceivable Wayne might have sat in, he said.
Another tie to a famous person for the family is that Dana?s father played baseball in high school and went to bat against Bob Feller, who later pitched for the Cleveland Indians.
?And I have the bat that did not get a hit off Bob Feller,? Dana said.
Dana?s father is what Shifflett liked about raising children.
?They had a good father,? she said. ?Otherwise, the job wouldn?t have gotten done.?
The hardest part of parenthood was disciplining, Shifflett said.
Dana reminded his mother of a few activities that got him in trouble, including going to an apartment building laundry room with friends, taking clothes out of dryers and riding in them when he was about 5 years old. Another time, Dana changed fuses in their home, causing his mother to burn the liver she was cooking, although he doesn?t know how.
?I shouldn?t have been playing with the fuse box,? Dana said.
Even with the usual pranks of children, Shifflett seems to have had a good, long life, complete with attending church. She grew up Methodist and still is. When she lived in Maryland, she and the family were members of Faith Methodist Church?s choir at one point, Dana said. When they left that state, the choir presented them with a vase that had the names of people in the choir on the vase feet.
When Shifflett moved to Asbury on Memorial Day weekend 2007, she donated an organ and baby grand piano to the church she grew up in.
Although she attended church throughout her life, Shifflett didn?t seem to need religion as much as others might.
Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent