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.
One 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.
One 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?