A giddy victory over greed as well as time was marked by a big sheet cake with white icing and a lone flickering candle.
“Happy 105th Birthday Mud Dear,” the inscription read.
Mud Dear being the family nickname of Myrtle Lewis of North Texas, born in 1911. She celebrated her 105th birthday on April 11.
Lewis was still alive and still in her home three years ago when a bank headed by Steven Mnuchin sought to seize the house on a legal technicality involving briefly lapsed insurance and a reverse mortgage.
Mnuchin being the second generation Wall Street greedster who has since gone on to become Donald Trump’s main money man.
Trump being the presidential candidate who promises to Make America Great Again and to win so often in so many ways that we will become sick of winning.
Back in 2013, Mnuchin was still head of OneWest bank, which continued to press for foreclosure even after Lewis’s family quickly remedied a lapse in the insurance required by her reverse mortgage.
A reverse mortgage being a loan to a senior citizen homeowner in which the house serves as the collateral. The loan does not have to be paid until the homeowner either dies or moves out. The estate then usually has to repay the loan within six months or lose the house.
Mnuchin’s bank appears to have grown weary of waiting for her to die before it could grab the modest one story brick house that she has long called home. The bank seems to have used the lapse in the insurance as a pretext to get its cash quickly.
And OneWest might have succeeded in tossing the centenarian into the street had the case not chanced to come before Judge Bonnie Sudderth, then of the 352nd Judicial District Court in Tarrant County, since appointed to the state Court of Appeals.
Even the poorest defendant in criminal court is guaranteed a lawyer. But defendants in civil court who lack the resources to secure legal counsel are usually out of luck.
But Sudderth is guided by a sense of fairness that is at the true core of American greatness; past, present, and future.
Rather than just leave Lewis at the mercy of the bank’s lawyers, Sudderth took the rare step of appointing an attorney for a civil defendant.
The attorney was Jason Smith, and he also proved to have the stuff that has always made America great.
“A man with a conscience in him,” Myrtle Lewis’s son, Wayne Lewis, told The Daily Beast. “A caring heart and a fair man…A very thorough and efficient man. Excellent.”
Smith battled OneWest to a standstill even though the laws regarding reverse mortgages are written so as to favor the banks.
The deciding factor came into play when the case reached the attention of the local media. The bank almost immediately backed off.
“When they’re exposed to the public, that’s the only thing that backs them off,” Smith later told The Daily Beast of such banks.
Myrtle Lewis kept the house and continued to beat the bank just by waking up each morning.
“They made a bet that Myrtle Lewis would die soon and they could take her house, but she won the bet and is still living,” Smith said.
But of course, OneWest continued to seek profit in equally shameful ways in cases known only to the mortgage holders, in the shadows beyond a media spotlight.
The statistics as reported by The Nation: OneWest handled less than 20 percent of all reverse mortgages but executed more than a third of all such foreclosures in a six-year period beginning in 2009.
In 2015, OneWest was acquired by CIT Bank for $3.4 billion. Mnuchin’s investment group had acquired OneWest for $1.5 billion seven years before, so the deal meant a profit over $1.9 billion, more than doubling the money. He remained on the CIT board of directors.
All of which should have taken the surprise out of the news that Mnuchin had gone on to become the chief fundraiser of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
But there remained something remarkable that even the likes of Trump would sign on with a character such as Mnuchin.
No less remarkable is that even a character such as Mnuchin would sign on with the likes of Trump.
“Are you kidding?” Wayne Lewis exclaimed this week upon learning of Mnuchin’s new connection with Trump.
Lewis was happy to report that his mother had just celebrated her 105th birthday and that the 70 relatives and friends in attendance had included her great-great-grandson, not yet a year old.
“She got a chance to touch him,” the son told The Daily Beast.
One person who was unable to attend was his mother’s younger sister, who died eight months ago.
“[Myrtle Lewis] said, ‘God knows best.’ She’s in God’s hands. I love her with all my heart, but I’m not trying to go with her,’” the son recalled.
To have put 105 candles on the cake would have constituted a logical challenge and perhaps a safety hazard. So they decided on a single one for good luck. The birthday girl blew it out.
“I don’t know what she wished for,” the son told The Daily Beast. “Knowing her, it was probably more longevity.”
Her son reported that the secret to this bank-beating longevity is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
“She would walk everywhere rather than ride,” the son said. “She did that for years and years and years.”
And along with walking, she kept to “clean living.”
“No smoking, period,” the son said. “Very little drinking, if any.”
There does remain the worry that the bank will again try to force her from her home.
“When she doesn’t think about it, it’s OK,” the son said. “When she thinks about it, that’s when she gets a little off balance. Because it’s her home. This is her baby, right here. This is what she knows. If she goes somewhere, she always wants so to go back home.”
She was happily at home last week, when a nurse stopped by to give her a regular checkup.
“Her blood pressure was just a little high, but other than that, she’s moving right along,” the son said. “She’s doing well.”
He pondered aloud the richness as well as the length of her life.
“The things that she’s seen, experienced, and lived,” he said. “It’s overwhelming.”
And here she was, all-American winner in her home, sweet home.
“It’s a beautiful scenario, to be honest,” he said.