BY HELEN HINCHLIFF
On Sunday, March 14, the family of long-time Brinkworthy Park resident Maurine Fryer, a few of her neighbours and two pipers gathered at noon to help her celebrate her 100th birthday.
What a milestone! Few of us reach it and, insofar as Brinkworthy Park managers Rick and Lynell Vipond are aware, Maurine is the first resident of the park to reach 100 while still living in her own home.
Maurine and her daughter-in-law Anne invited me over for a cup of tea and a chat a few days before the big day. How did she feel about such a landmark, I asked. “I’m looking forward to my birthday,” she told me, adding that she was eager to receive greetings from the Queen, the Governor General, and anyone else who happened to be paying attention.
Fryer was born in Winnipeg in 1921. Her identical twin sister Audrey was born just 15 minutes earlier. “Nobody could have been closer than the two of us,” she told me. “We always dressed alike and we even married brothers.”
When I asked Maurine about the spelling of her name, she displayed an amazing memory for detail.
“I was named for ma belle Maurine,” she announced with pride. “She was the heroine of a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox who was born in 1850 and died in 1919. It was a very long poem and my mother loved it. I think there was an Audrey in it too.”
While she told me all about her mother’s love for this poem, Anne got busy googling. Soon she discovered it was a 70-page-long rhymed verse narration of the life and love of someone named Maurine. Even though Wilcox was featured in obituaries published throughout the U.S. and Canada, these days she seems to have been forgotten by pretty much everyone except Maurine Fryer.
Maurine’s family home in Winnipeg was on Seven Oaks Avenue in West Kildonan, where she attended West Kildonan United Church. She married Harold Fryer in that church, and soon found herself living outside Swift Current, Sask., where Harold was a radio operator at the Royal Air Force Base, a major training facility for RAF pilots. One of Maurine’s contributions to the war effort was to save her sugar ration coupons so she could bake pies for the young pilots.
“Their favourite was banana cream!” she announced. “Those boys would beg me to write out the recipe for their wives or mothers. I’d do it, but I knew it would be a long time before they’d be able to buy the ingredients.”
Harold and Maurine spent many years in the Lower Mainland, he as a radio operator for airports and sometimes lighthouses. She worked in the payroll office for one branch of Canada Post. In 1974, Don Clarkson (one of Harold’s radio buddies) and his wife Ruth invited them for a visit to their Sunnyside home in Fulford Harbour (where Ruth was postmaster for many years).
“We couldn’t imagine spending more than a day or two on an island,” Maurine told me, “but before we caught the return ferry, we had picked out where we wanted to live.” It wasn’t long before the two of them were building a retirement home on Fort Street.
Once settled, Harold joined the radio club and Maurine started entering knitted items for the fall fair.
“I submitted something every year between 1974 and 2018,” she told me as she proudly showed me an array of blue ribbons. “In the last few years, I was the only one in my age group who was still knitting.”
Maurine had her knitting on her lap while we chatted and I was really impressed by the quality of her tension. I had to tell her that she was a better knitter at 100 than I had been at 20.
When I asked her about her background, Maurine sighed and said, “My grandfather was born in England, and I wish I knew where.”
What better birthday present could I give her than doing a bit of sleuthing. It turns out that John Elliott, the grandfather who died decades before she came on the scene, was born in the county of Kent in 1865. Julia O’Neill, the girl he married in Toronto, was born in Killarney, County Kerry in 1869.
They both died in their 20s, so she didn’t inherit longevity from either of them. And her father died in his 30s. Her mother did better, living into her mid-60s.
To what does Maurine attribute her long life?
“I try to keep up with things,” she replied. “I celebrated Christmas on FaceTime with my children and grandchildren. And I keep busy knitting sweaters for my family.”
What a wonderful way to live a very long life!