By Susan Lowndes
She can’t remember all of them, but Gladys Lowndes, a Kelvington resident who will turn 105 on Jan. 23, can reach back 97 years to one of her first Christmases in Unity, Saskatchewan.
“Dad was a minister in Unity for three or four years and in Unity, they brought in a Christmas tree from somewhere, a great big one, and then they had a concert in the hall,” she recalls. “Presents were given out in front of the tree by Father Christmas. When you came from England, you called him Father Christmas, not Santa Claus.”
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The first Christmas present she remembers receiving was an Eaton’s beauty doll that was sitting near her stocking when she got up in the morning. “I guess I was eight or nine years old.”
Gladys was born in 1909 in London, England; her father was Fred Rawlinson, a Presbyterian minister, and her mother was Georgina Pinsent. The youngest of four children, Gladys emigrated with her family to Canada when she was just one-and-a-half years old.
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“I think I was about 10 years old when we were living at Macrorie and at that time we got on the train and went to Edmonton to spend Christmas with Aunt Lil and Uncle Will and my cousins Gordon and Olive. My aunt and uncle gave me a little celluloid doll; everything was painted on it. Everyone was carting it around on Christmas day and even though I thought I was too old for that doll, I didn’t like them running around with it.
“My cousin Gordon was 11 or 12 that Christmas and I thought it was very strange that he went back to school a day or so after Christmas, and they (his classmates) had their (Christmas) concert. My three brothers went but I didn’t go.”
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Gladys recollects eating turkey or chicken at Christmas, and Christmas pudding. As children they hung their stockings on the railings of their beds and they didn’t receive many presents.
“Uncle George and Aunt Mil always sent a present at Christmas. Sometimes Aunt Mil put a Christmas cake in the parcel. I guess my folks sent gifts to their kids.”
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What Gladys never had until her nineties was a Christmas tree, and then it was made of wire and tinsel, about one foot high, set out by one of her grandchildren.
“We didn’t ever put a tree up in our house; we just had streamers and things hanging from the ceiling. There weren’t any Christmas trees. You’d have to go a long way to get one.” And winter travel was by horse and sleigh.
“When we visited at Uncle George and Aunt Mil’s in northern Alberta at Onion Lake, we saw a Christmas tree but there were none at home. If the concert was in the hall, that was the only tree there was.”
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The family moved every three or four years and Gladys looks back to Zealandia as one of her favourite towns. “I was there more years than anywhere else, four years anyway. I was older when we lived in Zealandia and we had a good CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training, a United Church youth organization) and some very good leaders.”
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It was while teaching at Fundale, near Lacadena, that she met Fred Lowndes. Dec. 23, 1933, was the school’s Christmas concert and her last day of teaching. Her fiancé, Fred, was to take her to Plato to catch the train for Dunblane, where her parents were living, but a blizzard blew in and she and Fred ended up eating Chinese food for their first Christmas together. Married in Moose Jaw on Jan. 22, 1934, her father performing the ceremony, the newlyweds headed to the West Coast by train for their honeymoon. When they returned, they settled on a farm southwest of Kelvington.
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Their first child was born in September 1935 and Gladys talks about his first Christmas. “It was a nice Christmas because they had something on at Meadow Bank Hall and a fella in town, he had a store, and he put little presents on the tree and sure enough, Glen was just a baby but he got a little celluloid doll. Course, he was too young to play with it.”
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For the next 63 years Gladys and Fred raised a family of four, farmed and then retired to the town of Kelvington. Fred passed away in 1997 at age 91 and really it was the first time that Gladys lived alone. She was 88 years old. She admits that those first years after Fred’s death were lonely, but their four children and several grandchildren lived within 20 miles of her home.
“Fred’s been gone 14 years. When he was alive we depended on each other quite a bit. It was lonesome at first but you get used to it. It has been really good, really fine, to have my children (around me),” Gladys says with relish. “Everybody stayed around. Fred wanted the boys to take over the land and they did, so he was glad about that. I thought Glen might go into something different, when he went to university, but Fred said we’d get some cows (a dairy herd), so he came home right away after his agricultural degree.”
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Gladys has lived 105 years, she says, with few worries except now, if her curtains aren’t pulled in the evening before the neighbours’ lights come on and reflect on her television screen.
It’s cold but, she points out, she’s used to it and she doesn’t have to go out. “I guess I have always lived that way—let things go as they come, live day to day. Nothing we can do to change it anyway.”
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Active with the seniors’ club, playing bridge, whist, shuffleboard, taking part in their walking program and keeping a garden until the last few years, Gladys rarely leaves her home now.
“It was getting quite difficult to get around so I quit going to the drop-in centre. We used to play bridge every Wednesday afternoon at the Villa and we took turns hosting lunch. I did miss it when I stopped going but after awhile…” she trails off, thinking. “It is too much effort to get out; I want to stay home. I’m better to stay in the house. I’d like to run around like the rest of you but I have had my time, so I have to put up with it. I used to walk around the block but I have had to give that up. It is too hard on me.”
She says she makes the most of it. She faithfully watches Dr. Phil because he is one of the ones she can hear. Her routine is set. She still lives at home and never goes to bed before 10 in the evening. She watches Dragon’s Den, Murdoch Mysteries or The Nature of Things, and always the evening news. In the last couple years her mobility has been restricted, so a different member of her family comes for the evening meal, cooking for her and, each night for the past year, a different child or grandchild spends the night.
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Gladys has also been fortunate to have Margie Minky, a longtime family friend, move in next door. Having someone that close allowed Gladys to keep her independence right up until about a year ago.
“It is really great to have Margie next door. She sees after a lot of things, does my lawn, calls in and sends things over. She certainly means a lot to me. To see her light, I know when she is up, and it is always on when I go to bed. It means something to see that light and that she is right next door. All I have to do is pick up the phone. When smoke detectors were going off, I called her over several times. When I have had troubles, I call her and she comes over.”
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Most of Gladys’s good friends have died. She was close with Charles and Eva Irving and their families, but Eva has been gone more than 10 years. Rena Bein, another longtime friend, is a resident at Kelvindell Lodge.
“Rena is in the Lodge and I can’t have anything to do with her very much. Once in a while she has phoned. You can’t talk too long on the phone because when you are a shut-in, there is really nothing to talk about.”
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She credits her longevity to her genes and healthy living; both her parents and a brother lived into their nineties. Gladys has 17 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren and she does not dispense any wisdom to them because, she says, they can’t understand the world she has lived in and she can’t understand theirs.
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“I consider myself very lucky. I have so many grandchildren all around me, all my children around me. I’ve had a very nice life in Kelvington. I miss my friends, but I don’t focus on it.
“I feel much safer when I am shut in; I choose it and I am happy. I don’t like to go out and when I am out I like to get home very quickly. They (family) took me out (this Christmas) at 4:30 and I got home at 8:30 and that was quite a long time, but they took me home when I asked to go home.
”I don’t play the piano or read anymore but I don’t really want to. I can’t. But I have my television and my meals and my family visits all the time and that is what I want now.
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“If they (Meals on Wheels) would send me half what they send me I’d be much happier; they send too much food.”
And that is an odd statement because this reporter knows that no one can match the amount Gladys eats for breakfast or supper.
Happy Birthday, Grandma. Save room for cake!