The story of my friend Oran

Have you ever thought about living to be 100? What it would be like to see all the changes in the world over a span of one hundred years? Would you even want to live that long? A lot of people say they most certainly wouldn’t want to, although I wonder if it’s because most of us really don’t expect to live that long so it’s an easy judgment to make. Some people look at old age as a disease of the body and mind, and I suppose for many it is. But I’m just not sure it has to be that way. I’ve heard about some pretty remarkable centurions. I can’t help thinking that much of it had to do with their attitude and their determination to age yet never grow “old.”

My next-door neighbour lived to be 100. She was a remarkable lady. She’s been gone for about 7 years now, but I think of her so often. She was a feisty lady with a twinkle in her eye and a fierce determination to do things one way or the other. Many times it was that “other” way, but it never made a difference in the end result.

I spent many hours at her house being entertained by her stories of long ago, totally enthralled in that way of life she so vividly described in her yarns. There was so much for someone like me to learn and my love for local history deepened with each story she told. I loved hearing her stories about the first time she remembered ever seeing a woman smoke (probably a big deal at the time!); her days in a one-roomed schoolhouse; the very first doll she ever had that she won in a raffle but ended up giving it away to a little girl she thought wanted it more; and even her memories of the rumble they heard the morning of the Halifax explosion in 1917 and when word finally reached them in the Forties Settlement that “Halifax blew up.” I once asked her why she didn’t write down her stories but she told me she didn’t want to because there had been so much sadness. She often spoke of her father’s death during the flu epidemic after the First World War and how she went to work as a hired girl shortly afterward. She never complained about any of these things or the sadness she spoke of, but simply stated them as fact.

More than her stories, as if they weren’t enough, she helped teach me that I was capable of doing things I normally wouldn’t even have attempted on my own. I like to think that a little of her determination kind of rubbed off on me over the years.

cupOne spring she decided we’d paint her bedroom. She’d chosen a soft lavender colour for the walls. It was her favourite. Painting I can do… no problems there. But while I was in the middle of rolling on the lavender I heard a strange sound coming from the kitchen. I went off to investigate only to find that my friend had her skillsaw out and was cutting a piece of wood to make a shelf for her newly painted room. Just so you know, she was about ninety at the time.Together we put up the shelf. Now, I’m not a shelf-putter-upper person by any stretch of the imagination. When I need a self put up in my house I get Hubby to do the job. But not that day. That day I was a shelf-putter-upper. While I put up brackets for a brand spanking new shelf, Hubby was nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, as I painted the walls and put up the shelf, my friend kept speculating on who would lay the cushion floor she’d bought. (Yes, she wanted the room to have a complete makeover.) Did I know anyone who could do it? she asked. While I couldn’t think of anyone, apparently she had someone in mind. And really, I should have known better. I really, really should have.

I’m not sure if my face gave way my surprise when she handed me a pair of scissors and told me to start cutting but it certainly should have. I stared down at the scissors, took a deep breath and started. There was no question about it. I was in for the whole deal. Cushion floor does NOT cut easily with scissors, but skin sure blisters easily—just so you know! And now that I think of it, she probably had me pegged for the job right from the start. She could be cagey that way …but cagey in an endearing way that always made me smile. Thank goodness the room was small with no strange and unusual cuts to make. It was no good for me to say I can’t do this, she’d have just said to give it a try anyway. She never worried that her expectations would not be met.

Like so many women in her time she was a quilter. I helped her with a few quilts one winter. I didn’t know how to use a thimble let alone quilt, but I did it. I love quilts, absolutely LOVE them. “Have you ever seen an ugly quilt?” I asked her one day as we stitched away. “Yes,” she said quite seriously, “this one.” But “ugly” or not, it keeps me warm, and I absolutely love it. Yes, she gave it to me when we were done. Of course it’s more than just a quilt, it’s pieces of coloured fabric stitched together with heart and soul and laughter and love and memory—and all those things makes it absolutely beautiful.

One thing I loved about doing things for my friend was she never expected perfection. (Good thing for that!) She was always just happy to have it done…and always grateful to have company.

IMAG0584One summer, when she was further into her nineties, she decided she wanted to finish one of the bedrooms upstairs in her house. Ignoring what others said about why she would decide at her age to tackle such a job, she went ahead. Her niece helped her. Saturday mornings we could hear the tap-tapping of hammers from down the road. “Oran must have got a pet woodpecker,” my husband would joke. It used to make us giggle as we imagined the two of them working away. But you know what? She got ‘er done. And I’m not sure if I’m more impressed that they did it, these two women with no carpentry skills, or the fact that at 90+ years she wasn’t too old to hope or wish or want or dream. And while I’m not absolutely sure, I think that her “I can” attitude had much to do with her longevity.

There is so much more to this story than I could possible post here, more than a lifetime if I were to dig deep enough. But more importantly, I think this story, this story of my friend, Oran, who lived to be 100 years young, is a story we can all learn from. Life is so much more than the number of years we’ve lived but the number of years we’ve filled with love and laughter and memories, not only for ourselves but for others.

Have you ever thought about living to be 100? Has anyone in your life made it that far?

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30 Comments

  1. This is a sweet story, Laura. You are very blessed to have had such a remarkable neighbour and friend. Interesting, isn’t it, how people can inspire us by their own enthusiasm.
    I remember when I was a young girl my mum took me to meet a lady who was 100. Mum was so impressed with that and thought I should be, too. At the time it didn’t mean a whole lot to me, I was just bashful. Since then I’ve been acquainted with a couple of ladies who lived to be 100, and you know, that’s great for them. I really don’t know if I want to be in this world as long as it will take me to reach that age, though, the way it’s going. But, also, good health makes aging more enjoyable; I may not mind being that old if my health is not a problem.

    Another great post!

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    • Thanks, Lynn. I’m glad you enjoyed my story. I do feel very blessed to have been Oran’s friend. I used to giggle to myself when she spoke of other people who were “old” as if she didn’t realize that same word applied to her. She did tell me several times that she couldn’t believe how many years had passed. What I think is that we only have this moment to live or die in. It won’t matter when that moment ends because that moment will always be now–if that makes sense. I do think that health would play a big role in whether we’d wish to make it to 100.

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      • It’s funny that when my dad was in his late 80’s and he’d see a senior making his or her way down the road, he’d make comment about that old fella, or old gal. My mother-in-law is in her early 80’s and is like that, too.
        I think as we see others around us age we forget we don’t look the same as we did years earlier either.

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  2. Janice Cornelius

     /  July 19, 2015

    I love this story Laura! It so much reminds me of my grandmother :). She will be 103 in September and her stories of growing up I could listen to over and over. (And some i have :). There is just something about hearing those stories from a simpler time!
    As for living to be 100? Maybe it’s something in the Dalhousie genes? Bring it!!

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    • Glad you enjoyed it, Janice. I know your grandmother would have some wonderful stories to tell and I just love that we live here in the house she grew up in! Ha! Those Dalhousie genes..aren’t they something?

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  3. Marie Mailman Sheridan

     /  July 19, 2015

    She sounds like a remarkable lady ….good basis for a book maybe, Laura…..enjoyed this very much!!…..So much to learn from these older people we have met……

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    • She was VERY remarkable and I do believe that her influence on me has found it’s way into my writing from time to time. How could it not? Thanks for reading and commenting, Marie!

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  4. Barb francis

     /  July 19, 2015

    Laura thank you for this wonderful story as i can relate it to my neighbour growing up. she taught me to crochet so I think of her with all my crafts I do. She also taught me the life lesson of always being truthful and owning our mistakes. It’s amazing how often they creep into our daily lives.

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    • Thanks Barb for sharing this. There is so much to be learned from this older generation and our lives can only be made richer for having had such people in our lives. ❤

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  5. Sandi Weaver

     /  July 19, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading this, Laura! My Dad’s sister lived to be 101 and was healthy, mindful and self sufficient until the final week of her life. I loved to visit her and hear her talk about her youth…she was the oldest child and my Dad the youngest…ironically my Dad died at 46, his 4 sisters out lived him. One thing that makes me smile is the during one visit a few years ago we were discussing a new home that had been built on “the back if the island” in a place called “Angels Retreat” She could not understand anyone building a house there…after all, “all they could see was the ocean!” because she had lived by the ocean all of her life she didn’t understand people building out there for the million dollar view 🙂
    She was a wonderful cook/baker and not long after her 100th birthday she had entertained 11 family members and served a “boiled dinner”…dessert and the works! I am hoping I inherit some of her longevity…especially if my mind stays as sharp as hers was! Sandi.

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    • Glad you enjoyed it, Sandi! Thank you for sharing your story. It made me giggle. Your aunt sounds like a remarkable person. You were fortunate to have her in your life. 😀

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  6. Kathy

     /  July 19, 2015

    I think about living to be a 100 or more, often. As long as I am healthy in body and mind. As healthy as one can be after 100 yrs. of kicking around. My grandmother died four mths. short of her 100th birthday.

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    • A healthy mind and body would definitely be a must, Kathy but really, at any age. Health is so much more important than many of realize until we no longer have it.

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  7. A great story about an amazing woman. These women inspire us, don´t they. I´m sure some of her stories or parts of them will make it into your books (if they haven´t already). My great aunt Barbara lived to be 95, spunky and busy to the end. I always said I wanted to be like her when I grew up (if that ever happens) I just returned from visiting relatives in Alberta like my 91 year old great aunt who is still going strong and put out a garden this year. No one I know has made it to 100 yet, but they tend to get close and live life to the fullest.

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    • I agree, these woman offer so much inspiration not only for us as writers but for us a women. How blessed we are to have them in our lives.

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  8. Get ‘er done – should be everybody’s mantra. My Nana Mingo lived to be 96, and she was the epitome of determination and grit. Pretty sure there’s a connection between those traits and longevity. Lovely piece of writing, Laura.

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    • Thanks, Jan. I’m convinced that attitude plays a large role in longevity. It’s that driving force that makes us keep going no matter what.

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  9. This story warms my heart; makes me think of my little Italian friend who is 104. She was once my next door neighbor, and I continued to spend a lot of time with her even when we moved. She moved about five hours away (to her niece’s house) about a year ago, and we still make it to visit her on occasion.

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  10. What a delightful neighbour and friend. I love that she left you with so many memories and smiles. I will live yo be 93. I somehow know that! Maybe sometime between now and then we can meet up for tea!

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    • Oh Joss, I’m SO excited to hear from you! Seriously, I was just thinking of you today and that I hadn’t visited your blog in awhile. (To be honest my Internet connection has been really challenging and so I don’t venture out into blog land as much as I’d like!) Yes, one day we will have tea. I’m sure of that. 😀

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  11. Judi

     /  July 20, 2015

    Wonderful piece of writing, Laura. Aunt Oran was a very remarkable lady in deed. But she would be the first to tell you, “I’ll no lady” LOL. I didn’t spend as much time with her as you did, but I still remember working on zig saw puzzles with her and all the stories she could tell. Some of them abut my family member (and hers) that were very amusing and sometimes scary…LOL I loved Aunt Oran, she will always be remembered for her amazing stories and sense of humor…I can see some of her in your future books…

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    • Yes, she’d have something to say about the “lady” part of that post! All of us were so fortunate to have her in our lives. 🙂

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  12. Laura, you and Oran touched a special place in my heart. I used to think that growing old was frightening, that you lose all your freedom and maybe even your senses. You become trapped in a body that will no longer respond and you might have to linger that way for a long time.

    Nothing could be farther from what I have learned and your story only highlights what being old truly means. It means we have the opportunity of perspective, reflection, and time enough to know how silly we were to be afraid of running out of time.

    Where I live in Southern Florida, it is not uncommon to encounter folks who live to be 100 and over. I am in a senior-gated park with lovely cottages and turquoise pools, lush landscaping and lots of older folks. Our oldest resident is 103 and went zip lining when she was 95, she still drives and dances at all the events. She lives alone, does all her own grocery shopping and still loves to cook.

    In my local writer’s group we have a woman who is 96 and teaches three classes in Hebrew and Jewish History two days a week, swims, cooks all her own food and she is a writer. She has written down her stories and does a short piece once a week, every single week. As a gift to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, she wrote her memoir.

    We have four others in our group who are over ninety. I once Googled who was the oldest person published for the first time (feeling that time for me to formally publish was running out 🙂 He was 96 and died at 107 and published a total of four books

    Thanks so much for Oran’s story and keep the faith … getting older might not be for sissies, but it holds the promise of so much … going a little slower ain’t a bad trade off 🙂

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    • Thanks for sharing these stories with us Florence! They’re amazing. It would seem that staying both physically and mentally active is key to living a long life as well as having that determination to keep going and never thinking you’re too old to start something new..

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  13. Patti DeWinter

     /  May 14, 2016

    She was a great lady. I remember her and Cynthia walking.

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