In the kitchen with Mathilda Pintak

| 01 Oct 2012 | 11:58

By Ginny Raue

West Milford resident, Mathilda Pintak, was born in the year that Woodrow Wilson was elected president. When she was just over a year old, American doughboys marched off to World War I and into the history books.
Mathilda, better known as Tillie, has lived for nearly a century, seeing many changes as the years rolled by. Born on May 31, 1913, Pintak looks forward to a quiet celebration of her 100th birthday. She’s plain spoken, good-humored, friendly and up to date on the world around her.
She was raised in Union City, one of three daughters born to Czechoslovakian and German immigrant parents. Her father was a custom tailor, her mother a dressmaker. The family lived in back of the store, just like you see in old movies.
Pintak had a happy childhood.
“We would look forward to the weekends. We’d get on a bus and go mushroom picking in Coytesville. My mother would pickle them or fry them in butter with caraway seeds.” She and her sisters enjoyed their toys; new porcelain-faced dolls at Christmas that would be worth a fortune today.
“But what would I do with thousands of dollars now?” Pintak asked.
She left high school after two years and when she overheard her parents discussing her uncertain future she quietly went out and got a job at Woolworth’s five-and-dime store as a clerk. She worked her way up to hosiery buyer, earning about $10 a week.
As a youngster she had her “share of boyfriends” but mostly they hung around in groups of friends. She met her future husband, Joseph, and they dated for eight years before marrying in 1938 at St. Joseph Church in Fairview. She wore a white taffeta dress with a rear stand-up collar “like a queen’s dress.” The ceremony was followed by an at-home reception, then a honeymoon at Niagara Falls.
During World War II, when Joseph was in the Coast Guard, Tillie went to work in a munitions plant. Surely a job that was a far cry from Woolworth’s. She remembers thinking, “Boy, I hope I’m doing everything right or someone might die.”

The Pintaks went on to have one daughter, Barbara, who today is her mother’s greatest helpmate. Barbara, a grandmother herself, sees to her mom’s safety and comfort. She lives near her and stays in constant contact. Pintak, most appreciative of her daughter’s attention, stressed that she wants Barbara to enjoy her own life as well as tend to her.
In the early years, the Pintaks lived in Fairview. When the couple visited friends in Shady Lake, Tillie fell in love with the community’s swimming pool. Resistant at first to living in a log cabin, they relocated in 1958 and Joseph re-did the interior of the house, making it, in Tillie’s words, a “city house.”
Pintak, who now has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, lost her husband in 2002. She remains in her home, although it’s harder to keep it up now.
Over the years, Pintak has lost family and friends. Her oldest sister passed on just before her 100th birthday and her younger sister, who is 98, resides in Virginia and is bedridden most of the time. Pintak, who said her own ailments are tolerable, uses a walker to get around. She values her independence but promises Barbara she will be cautious.
She has a daily routine and said by 11 a.m. she is settled in a comfortable chair. She loves to do crossword puzzles and she keeps a journal, writing in it every day.
“I use loose leaf and put a calendar in it and mark the days. If I have a visitor or want to find out what I did, I have my own system in the journal," said Pintak. "When you are alone as long as I’ve been, you need something to occupy your mind. At the end of the day I write ‘good night.’ That’s the way I live and I am happy."
Pintak no longer makes it to church but prays every day. She has a new friend from St. Joseph Church, Madonna Hayes, who visits her regularly for tea and a gab fest. She calls her “my angel.” She looks forward to TV re-runs; Maude and Archie Bunker are favorites. She enjoys her Meals on Wheels for lunch but still cooks favorite dishes that aren’t on the delivery menu.
“I like to cook sauerbraten and I tell Barbara buy me a chunk of meat. She buys it, I cook it and freeze it. I won’t do without veal cutlets or pork chops either,” she said.
Pintak loves to watch the bears on her property, but often they keep her indoors. When it’s safe, she hunts in her yard for four-leaf clovers.
“Last year I found 107 of them. I think maybe that’s why I’m still here,” she said.