At the age of 100 Ethel had a fall, broke a hip, and despite the odds, returned to live,alone, in her little house in Margaret, in southwest Manitoba. Until the age of 103 she served cheese whiz on margarine covered toast and tea in china tea cups to visitors.
On my visit to Ethel, a week after her 105th Birthday, she greets me, “You can’t image how wonderful it is to see you!” She is alert and during the visit asks, ”How is your mother?” “How are your brother’s crops doing?” “What do you think of the situation in Syria?” and, “How are you? People ask about you all the time.” After her second fall she moved to a personal care home in Boissevain.
Curious about her vitality at the age of 105, I also ask questions – and listen for clues in her replies: “I have always believed that the most important thing for people is to hear about other people” “Memories are so wonderful. I have so many memories.” “I sing to myself all the time…Oh I don’t know what my favorite songs are, there are so many.” We talk about sobering events in the world. “No I don’t really think things are different now,” she says. “Some very strange things are going on, but I think that every time terrible things happen when you’re involved, you think it’s the worst that can be. The wars were terrible,” and returns to her outlook on life, “You know it’s the wonderful people that make up my life.”
When she was born, Margaret had more than 100 people – blacksmith shop, community hall and rink, Friday night dances, boarding house, school, general store. Living through the demise of a small community filled with sports, dancing, singing in the church choir and to a current population of 10, she was never bored. After a courtship of 20 years, she married Spike Tibbatts, who is now honored for his pitching in the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame. They tended the town as if pubic spaces were their personal responsibility. Beautiful flowers and well maintained lots, leave me memories of a place that won Best Kept Town Award. Whether this really happened or not (I believe it did) the story of her baking a cake for a farm family, rolling her car into the ditch on her way there, and getting out of the car with cake, walking the rest of the way for delivery, is symbolic of her ability to face life circumstance with energy and kindness.
McMillan and Morrow families overlapped seven generations, since the founding of Margaret. My sister-in-law Mary and my young niece Cadence became friends. “Oh yes, I saw Mary for an afternoon visit. She looked wonderful!”
Visiting Ethel, I learned respect for the wisdom and satisfaction in living a simple, unadorned life. “When technology is the master, it leads to disaster faster,” she joked. Once I asked her where she got her bread for the toast she was serving me, “Oh probably from the Dumpster,” she said, “Phil (a neighbor known for unusual habits) brought it to me.” Yes, she had good genes, and when younger had eaten food from her own garden, but her attitude was invincible and kept her young in the heart.
Ethel passed last month, before I finished writing this tribute to her. The community of my childhood friends, family and community filled the Minto church (Margaret’s no longer existed) to pay tribute.