Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Century

1/17/17 ... that was the day that the last of my grandmother's 8 children were born.
1/17/17 ... that last baby had another birthday ... one hundred years later.
Babe Ruth held by her mother in 1917. My grandfather is to the right of her, great-grandparents
behind him; all my aunts & uncles and my Dad, the boy at the far right - 11 years old.

At Sunday's 100th birthday celebration in Chatham
On Sunday, January 15th, 2017, Ruth Wellwood Nagle had a party that was attended by well over two hundred people. I was honoured to get to talk about Ruth and I shared the top ten things that I have learned from her ... the things that have influenced my life and that I will keep forever.

#1 When someone invites you to go somewhere. GO.

Or else they will stop asking you. Ruth is even down to specifics with that. She says they will ask you three times and then they just won't think of you anymore.

When I invited Ruth if to Newfoundland, each time it was an immediate 'YES!' ... never a hesitation, never a 'let me think about it' or 'I'll have to check the date.' That kind of attitude has led her on many adventures, and that advice, which I have taken to heart, has done the same for me.

#2 Don't get sad, get busy.

She told me that that was the best advice she was ever given. When she was a teenager, she was moping around the house with a broken heart because a fella had dumped her. Her mother told her 'Don't get sad. Get busy.' Ruth said that all through her life, it had served her well; that when things were troubling her she would just delve into some project or do something that kept her hands and head busy and it got it through it. 

Sewing always rejuvenated her
#3 Have a passion.

Ruth's life has been defined by two major passions – bridge and sewing. Playing bridge has kept her mind sharp, led all kinds of friends into her life and as she says 'brought her many, many pleasant hours'.

Sewing had been a big part of her life from back when she sewed her children's clothes. She said that even at 98 and 99, when she thought that she was too tired, she would go to her sewing machine and 'come alive'.

#4 Share that passion.

Ruth shared her passion of bridge with countless people over the years as she taught within different groups and also individually. She was teaching and playing right up to two months ago when her eyesight suddenly started failing. She said that she stepped away because she didn't want to 'slow people down'. For her, bridge is a very serious endeavour, not for chatting and entertainment. I had some large print playing cards sent from Amazon and she told me today that she's going to get back to playing bridge next week, after all the busy-ness of her birthday.

The fruits of her labours with sewing has touched people far and wide. Many of us are graced with her beautiful handiwork. Most meaningful is her involvement with creating quilts for the children of Africa for the Canadian Food For Children project.

Some of the 1000 quilts that made their way to the children of Africa
#5 Have a goal.

Determination, perseverance and focus after having set a goal have been a big part of Ruth's spirit. When she was in 80's, she decided that she would give all her children, nieces and nephews, handmade quilts. On her 87th birthday she had 35 ready to be distributed. On Sunday, after celebrating her 100th birthday, she had one for each of her 11 grandchildren. 

When asked at 90, how many quilts she had made for the children in Africa, she didn't know, so she started counting from then on. As it approached her 98th birthday, she had 700. She made her goal 1000 and sure enough, she hit that. She says that she is continuing but needs some help sewing because of her eyesight and put out a call for a volunteer on Sunday.

Ruth at her beloved lake spot at Erieau
When she broke her hip at 98, she used her deep desire to get to the trailer at the lake as motivation to do her physio daily. When she broke the other hip fourteen months later, again she had the lake as motivation. Indeed, just three weeks after the break, she was at our family reunion. She and I still got to have our traditional camp out at her trailer in August.

The party on Sunday was motivating as well. She told me that it was a lot of pressure staying alive until her 100th ... she said that she didn't want to disappoint anyone as people seemed to be really counting on it. That aim left her no time to lay in bed being concerned that she had a stroke on Christmas Day.

Mummering in Newfoundland at 92
Ruth's first cod she caught at 92
#6 Keep having adventures.

Ruth got her first bicycle after she retired. She then proceeded to go on bicycle trips to New York, Niagra-on-the-Lake, Montreal, Florida and Holland when she was in her seventies.  Besides numerous trips to Florida,she travelled to Newfoundland three times, Ireland, Costa Rica, Jerusalem, Yugoslavia and Europe. Settling into the airstream at Erieau was an adventure that she says added 10 years to her life.

Daughters, daughter-in-law, nieces and
friend ... all part of Ruth's circle.

#7 Keep making your circle bigger.

While many people, by the time they are one hundred, have outlived most of their friends, Ruth's circle continues to expand. She has friends of every age, from so many different connections – the lake, church, bridge. The room was filled with all of Ruth's friends who continue to enjoy her spirit and her company.

#8 Live in the present.

I know elderly people who say 'All of my friends are gone. I'm so bored and lonely.' Even though they are mentally sharp, they talk more about 'back then' ... when things were better, their lives were fuller. I have never had a single conversation with Ruth where she has said that. She will talk about the past if I bring it up and ask specific questions, but otherwise it is always about now or what's coming up. She is always more interested in what is going on in other people's lives than she is in talking about her own.
Ruth's published biography at 98 and second
published story of her own mother in the anthology
'My Mother's Keeper'

#9 There is no such thing as being “Too Old”.

Ruth's first motorcycle ride at 93

If one is healthy, it is never too late. Ruth 'mummered' and was screeched in as an Honourary Newfoundlander at 92; she bought into a place at the lake at 93; she rode her first motorcycle at 93; she bought a new car at 94; she published a book at 98; she rode an ATV for the first time at 99. She doesn't stop to think is she could or if she should ... if she thinks she wants to do it, she just does.
Many an hour spent walking the beach.

#10 Dont' be afraid of aging.

A cousin of Ruth and my dad told me when he was 84 and we were dealing with my father's dementia, that as you get old, you will either have 'from the neck up or the neck down – you can't have both'. Meaning, that either your brain goes and your body is okay, or your brain is sharp but your body isn't. Well, Ruth, at 100 is sharp pretty darn sharp on both counts. A few weeks ago she asked what she should do to optimize her health and was told walking was the best thing she could do. So out she went, twice a day for 20 minutes. She's far from done looking after herself.

All of those ingredients are intertwined to create a full and rich life ... each one overlapping into the other.
Ruth Nagle at 100

For Ruth there is another ingredient that is her foundation ... faith. Her faith has sustained her through the inevitable ups and downs of one hundred years. Her faith has given her comfort, hope, trust and acceptance. And gratitude. I know that she doesn't take any of it for granted – her family, her friends, her health or her longevity.

I asked her last week, what advice she would give to someone – what has served her through her century of living. She said “Just work through one day a time. And know sometimes it IS work. That's about it.'

A few years ago, during one of our 'talk-well-into-the-night' sleepovers, Ruth gave me the most meaningful compliment that I have ever received. She said to me: “You live your life well.” I said “Thank you. I like living. I am going to LIVE until I die.” She said, “Me too!” “Let's both do that then.” I said and ever since that has been her mantra. I hear her tell people that and it warms my heart and makes me smile.

She is definitely doing that full on, inspiring so many along the way.

Ruth at 96 years with Adam about 96 hours
Ruth the eldest family member at 100 with my daughter Alyssa, and her daughter Courtney, who is the youngest
at 8 months with the quilt that Ruth gave her when she was born.