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Thursday, March 12, 2015

To Victoria on her 100th birthday

My grandma Vicky turns 100 next week. The same day that my eldest daughter Milena turns 26. These two Pisces ladies have a lot in common. I am thankful that my daughter will likely never have to go through the hardship that her great-grandmother has endured in her life, but somehow I think she would get through it just the way Vicky has, with a shrug and a giggle. The following is a backgrounder that my mother wrote about her mother.
“Victoria Cullen was born on March 2, 1915, and was named Victoria Marie Labelle. She was born during lambing season (she says) on a farm in Wright (near Gracefield, in West Quebec). French was her first language. She was raised on the same farm until age 16 when she came to Ottawa to live and work with the Grey Nuns. She almost became a nun, and had her photo taken in the Novice habit!
She married Wilbert Cullen in Ottawa and had to learn English because he didn't speak any French.
She raised 5 children: 4 sons and a daughter. One son is now deceased.
She had 8 grandchildren (1 grandson died) and 4 great-grandchildren.
She stayed at home to raise her children until they were all in school, then worked as head waitress at several Ottawa venues, including the Chateau Laurier and Carleton University Staff Cafeteria.
She has always loved growing and processing vegetables and had a large garden until she was 82. She loved picking wild raspberries and blueberries and made barrels of home-made wine from the berries. She loved to bake and cook, and her favourite greeting when you arrived for a visit was: Are you hungry?
She loved to dance and play cards, and still does!”

Grandma Vicky stood up at my daughter Anastasia’s wedding two years ago and sang a little French wedding song to the bride and groom. She says she finds crowds a bit overwhelming now but when she does manage to make it out to family gatherings she prefers to be in the centre of all the excitement. If you hand her a beer, she will likely serenade you with a naughty French pub song.
At 100 years of age, Vicky still has her hair died bright red, and she paints her lips and nails to match. When faced with difficulty, she loses her temper at times (that’s the Irish in her) but will look back on it with a laugh. If you’re speaking to her and she can’t quite hear you, she is more likely to just laugh and change the subject than to get frustrated or to check the batteries in her hearing aid.
She knows exactly when “Two and a Half Men” is on television because it’s her favourite show. When I asked her why, she said, “because Charlie Sheen is so BAD.”
Grandma Vicky always did have interesting taste in men, but she rarely spoke poorly of them. I remember once she told me about a man who wasn’t very nice – he had her work all day, climbing up a mountain to gather firewood and then carrying it down the hill to the truck, while he rested. Up and down, all day. “And I was 80 years old!” she said.
On Sunday, March the 1st, we will host a combined birthday party for Milena and Vicky at the farm. We have a slideshow of photos to put up on the big screen, and some speeches will be made. In recent weeks we have received letters of congratulations to Victoria on her 100th birthday, from some very important people. The Governor General of Canada David Johnston, and (according to Grandma), the future Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau (she was a big fan of his father). The letter from the Queen takes a little bit longer to come in but when it does, we will frame it along with the rest of them, for Grandma’s wall of fame in her room at the residence.
If I live to be 100, I hope that people will remember me as a feisty, funny gal too. I have a great example to follow. I hope I inherit her intestinal fortitude, along with her varicose veins (which seem to have skipped a generation and bestowed themselves on me).
Grandma, on your 100th, we thank you for being exactly who you are, and we wish you several more years on God’s green Earth, as you continue to show us exactly how life should be lived and enjoyed.