Happy 100th Birthday Granny!

July 4, 2010

We just celebrated Canada Day on July 1st.  But July 4th is cause for an even greater celebration for our family.  I’m so excited that my incredible grandmother will be 100 years old.  Did you know that the US has the greatest number of Centenarians in the world- 1 per 3300 persons?  So how fitting that Granny will become one of these rare and special citizens on American Independence Day.

My cousin Todd who tracks our family’s history, shared her remarkable journey in a recent blog:

“My grandmother was born July 4, 1910, in Victoria BC.  She has lived through two world wars, and seen China change from an imperial dynasty, to a republic, to a communist state.

 She witnessed the Chinese Head Tax era, and the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. She welcomed 3 brothers home who served in WW2, after they were first denied the chance to fight for the country they were born in because they were Chinese.

She was granted the right to vote when she was 37 years old, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally appealed in 1947 and franchise was granted to Canadians of Chinese ancestry – because up until then, she was considered a resident alien. 

She has watched her grand-children become a Miss Canada 2nd runner-up, a TV news reporter, a Calgary city councilor, and a recipient of the BC Community Achievement Award.

She has appeared in an National Film Board documentary, a CBC television performance special, and CBC TV documentary about her grandfather and family descendant history.

In 2007, she received an ex-gratia payment for Chinese Head Tax settlement, because her deceased husband had paid the head tax, prior to 1923.”

What an amazing century to have experienced first hand.  Her great grandfather came to Canada in 1896 as a Minister for the men building the railway.  He was responsible for her absolute love of a good strong cup of English breakfast tea.  At 10 years old she was charged with looking after many of her 13 brothers and sisters.  She raised 6 children of her own, then 2 of her 17 grand children.  She has 22 great grand children and 4 great-great grand children.

As a young girl she was always invited to play baseball with the boys because she was the best batter and could knock 3 people off the bases with one smack.  She was also an amazing sprinter.  Granny can still remember 1924 when a quart of jersey milk was 17 cents, bread 7 cents and butter 40 cents.

Remarkably well preserved for her age, she is also as a sharp as a tack and doesn’t miss a thing.  She has an uncanny 6th sense – knows when she needs to call me or protect me with white light.  She recently reminded me to always trust and rely on my intuition which she says I inherited from her.  Granny was widowed at 42, put down her glasses at 60 and hasn’t needed them since.  She still lives in the same downtown apartment on her own as she has for over 30 years.  She walks elegantly upright and unaided, cooks, shops, and socializes each day with by passers in the neighbourhood.

She’s vibrant, independent, spirited, and forthright. A charming matriarch with sparkling eyes, she makes fast friends and a lasting impression where ever she goes.  Certainly it’s because she is naturally co-active.  Though she has the wisdom of age and experience she much more coach-like than a sage.  She is far more interested in hearing what you think than telling you what she thinks.  However, she will be sure to let you know if you step out of line.  No matter who you are.

Granny enjoying High Tea

Granny enjoying High Tea

As a youngster when I stayed at Granny’s downtown apartment I felt so independent and grown up taking the city bus everywhere with her.  I couldn’t sit still as a kid and we were two very headstrong women on a mission.  We’d go for tea, shopping at the big downtown department stores (where I apparently danced to the elevator music like a prima ballerina.  I drew quite a crowd and she taught me how to politely curtsy afterwards).  My grandmother said it was like watching herself as a young girl.   She was a strong resourceful woman who was also maternal and truly a lady.  I learned how to state my mind by how she courageously stood her ground for what she believed in.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Granny be afraid of anything.

Today Granny is still quite a character.  A few years ago she won a provincial award for a remarkable large complex Chinese knotting project she made.  Two weeks ago she returned from a trip to Toronto for an early birthday celebration with her younger siblings who are too delicate to come out for the party.  Now she has her sights on going to London England.

She received a special birthday card from the Queen of England as well as a letter from her representative in Canada- the Governor General.  Granny was non plussed and said, “So what?   They don’t even know me!”   She’s more keen on receiving a greeting from Toronto Maple Leafs National Hockey League legend Senator Frank Mahovlich because he personally invited her to a game decades ago.  She doesn’t want any fuss for her birthday just a small dinner at her favorite restaurant with her family and closest friends.  Paring down the guest list to 100 was agonizing for her.  She has selected her long time doctor as her guest of honor.

People always curious about the secret to her longevity.  Here’s what she says:

  • Stay up late, take power naps as needed and sleep in as late as you darn well feel like.  You’ve earned it. Don’t call granny before 11 am!
  • All you need is Ponds cold cream every day and night. Been using that for over 80 years. Without a lie her skin still as soft as a baby’s bottom.  She looks more alive than all of her younger siblings.
  • Never skip breakfast.  Eat 3 high quality chocolates a day.  And none of that healthy dark stuff.
  • Help anyone in need as much and often as you are able.
  • Be kind and friendly to everyone.
  • Speak your mind, stand your ground – which she still does even if it’s not popular.
  • Drink boiled water and up to 5 cups of English breakfast tea with whole milk each day.
  • Do daily calisthenics (such an old word I can’t even spell check it) when I asked her what exercises she did she showed me jumping jacks, bicycling on her back, bending to touch her toes and asked in a surprised voice, “doesn’t everyone do this?”  Can’t you just picture it?
  • Ask for what you want, believe you deserve it, then accept and receive it graciously.
  • Dress for success.  Carry yourself with respect and dignity. Don’t leave the house without matching jewelry, hose, hat and gloves.
  • Dress younger than your age and flaunt it if you’ve got it.  Granny is famous for smoothing her dress at her knees to show off her great legs.
  • Get hooked on the Young and the Restless so you can’t wait to see tomorrow’s episode.
  • Be grateful for whatever each day brings, have a chiropractic adjustment every month, and follows Louise Hay’s wisdom.
  • Keep your memory alive by reminiscing often.
  • Go with the flow- her greatest mantra.  She is a model of letting go and being unattached.

She lives by Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer

God, Grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

and Wisdom to know the difference.

This is truly an Independence Day.   Here’s to health, happiness and longevity.

Happy Birthday Granny!

Heart has to be in your work

January 20, 2008

Q: I am unhappy at my work and don’t know how to find the right career path for me. I’m confused and afraid of accepting yet another job that merely becomes unsatisfying later. Should I go back to school for more specific training?

A: There are so many choices and a working life is decades long. Regardless of career trends, job titles or enticing incentives, if your heart’s not in your work, you’ll simply lack the staying power.

Focus on a direction you are drawn to — be it finance, medicine or technology. Don’t panic if you can’t pinpoint the ideal job. Instead, explore with an open mind what is possible and available in that field. Future careers can be built on the experience and expertise gained in other areas.

Know that many other factors, such as industry sector, company culture, management style and work environment, influence job satisfaction. Information interviews with people already on the job can foreshadow what lies ahead.

To discover what would sustain you over the long haul, explore questions such as the following:

PURPOSE: Upon my retirement, what contribution would I want to be remembered for?

PASSION: What tasks and activities do I enjoy? What bores me? What “causes” motivate and inspire me to action?

STRENGTHS: What are my unique talents? What are my key skills? What am I interested in developing further?

VALUES: What core values are essential for me in my professional life? For example, integrity, service, flexibility.

A mentor, coach or career counsellor can help connect your key motivators with suitable opportunities.

Originally printed in The Province, January 20, 2008.