Tea with Alice

helen-harperTrouble? She’d just go and work in the garden!

She is what I have become.

“I’m 99 this year and I’ve outlived my husband, one daughter and the last doctor I saw in 1937, so Tyler you’re a young person. I think I need to start eating junk food. What do you suggest?” After my son choked on his tea and gave me a very worried look, he decided, “Well Auntie there’s always Doritos.”

And so it was with my Aunt Alice. Direct, positive, mentally and physically active.

When I went for tea, I always read the newspaper from cover to cover because there would inevitably be a discussion on, “ What did I think?” about this or that.

She was never sick. She put this down to seven vegetables a day and washing her money when she picked it up from the bank once a month. I once asked her if her fingers, that were bent and gnarled with arthritis, ever bothered her. “Oh no dear, if they give me trouble I just go and work the garden. There is nothing better than putting your hands deep in the soil. It relieves the body and fills the soul.”

Her walk was the cleanest in the neighbourhood every winter, and never did a weed dare to grow in the rich garden she tended every day in the summer. She didn’t leave her house until she was 102, and only because a hip betrayed her.

Alice was born in the middle of a bunch of kids on a homestead in southwestern Manitoba. An Irish father and a British mother (my mother and aunts and an uncle) were infused with honourable character. She was a firm believer in the Anglican Church teaching but didn’t flinch an eyebrow when I said I thought I would like to be more spiritual than religious. Her answer was, “but wouldn’t it be a boring world if we all thought the same?”

Even though she was widowed in her 40s, she managed to put her two daughters through university by sewing for people from her home. She also found the space and compassion to take me in as a small child when my own family was fragmented by polio.

I learned to sew by the age of five on a Singer peddle, sewing machine and could take it apart, oil and clean all the part by seven.

Because of this lady in my life, who passed this world at 111, I sew and knit. I give back as often as I can, work the soil and yes I eat Doritos with my son.

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