Florence Morgridge crossed an item off her bucket list last week, celebrating her 95th birthday fulfilling a long-held wish: riding in a bucket lift.

Morgridge – known to friends and family as Flossie – has lived for years on the sixth floor of Mill Cove Apartments in South Portland. And whenever fire trucks have visited the 82-unit complex, she’s been intrigued by the “cherry picker” buckets attached to long hydraulic arms that firefighters use to rescue people from tall buildings.

“When I see those buckets, I always thought I’d love to have a ride in one,” said Morgridge, who is known for her irrepressible spirit.

So, on her birthday Sept. 2, a family member arranged for the petite nonagenarian to take a ride on a lift at Handyman Equipment Rental in South Portland. Wearing a safety harness and a tall, pointed, purple birthday hat, Morgridge took to the skies as a crowd of family and friends sang “Happy Birthday.”

“I loved it,” Morgridge said, beaming as she returned to earth after rising about 30 feet above Main Street. “That was the best thing I ever did.”

She compared her ascension to going to heaven, then joked: “That’s the nearest I’ll ever be to heaven.”

Joking – and playing practical jokes – seems to come naturally to Morgridge, according to family and friends.

“She’s a very colorful character,” said her niece, Jean Farrar of South Portland. “You never know what she’s going to do next.”

One April Fool’s Day, Morgridge put “For Sale” signs on some Mill Cove residents’ cars with phone numbers included. “A lot of people got a lot of strange calls,” Farrar said.

Once she gave a family member a beautifully decorated birthday cake. However, when it was time to slice it, it turned out to be a pillow covered with frosting, Farrar said.

Friends told stories of other incidents, such as dog biscuits being frosted and passed out as cookies.

“She plays jokes on everybody in the building,” said Carol Schmidt, one of her neighbors at the Mill Cove Apartments, a South Portland Housing Authority complex on Soule Street.

“She looks like this little innocent grandmother, but, oh brother, she is anything but that,” Schmidt said.

But no one seems to hold anything against the lively prankster for her stunts.

“To know her is to love her,” said Schmidt, among a crowd of about 30 people who came to Handyman Rental to cheer on Morgridge.

Farrar, her niece, had arranged for the ride. She said she’d heard her aunt say whenever a fire truck pulled into the driveway at the apartment complex, “I wish I could ride in the cherry picker.”

“It was something kind of on her bucket list,” Farrar said.

Farrar has a friend who works at Handyman Rental, Mike Cousins, and he arranged for Morgridge to have the free ride in a boom lift on the lot.

Cousins said he’d never had such a request before, but helping Morgridge fulfill her dream “seemed like the right thing to do.”

“I hope I have half her spirit at that age,” he said.

Cousins had a Handyman mechanic, John Dufour, accompany Morgridge as she went aloft. The lift goes up about 36 feet high, but Cousins said Morgridge traveled about six feet shy of that height into the air. A bunch of birthday balloons was attached to the railing of the basket, as was a camera to record the event.

Dufour enjoyed the ride, too.

“I thought it was great to help someone fulfill their birthday wish,” he said.

Morgridge called him “the best chauffer,” and flirted with him and Cousins as they unstrapped her safety harness.

Morgridge’s son, Ralph “Skip” Morgridge of Portland, was also at the event to cheer his mother on.

Skip Morgridge, 63, said he hopes he is as healthy and active as his mother as he ages. He attributes her longevity to a “good sense of humor and a positive outlook.”

After her ride, the family planned to take Morgridge to a Japanese hibachi restaurant, where patrons all sit around a large grill as the chef prepares their food in a dramatic way, chopping it with large knives and making the flames leap high.

Farrar said her aunt had heard of hibachi restaurants but had never been to one and was eager for the new experience. “She wanted to try it,” she said.

Morgridge said that for her 96th birthday next year she’d like to take another bucket ride, but go even higher.

But her son suspects his mother will come up with some other unusual wish she’ll want fulfilled instead, which the family will try to make happen.

“She’ll think of something interesting,” he predicted.

Florence “Flossie” Morgridge waves to family and friends as she prepares to ride about 30 feet in the air in a bucket lift to celebrate her 95th birthday. (Staff photo by Tess Nacelewicz)

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