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The road to one hundred

Edith Carr and her late husband moved more than 20 times before settling at St. Jacobs Place in 2003. She celebrated her centenary with a party on May 21.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Edith Carr and her late husband moved more than 20 times before settling at St. Jacobs Place in 2003. She celebrated her centenary with a party on May 21. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“What’s it like to be 100 years old?” I ask Edith Carr at her birthday party.

Carr, a resident of St. Jacobs Place retirement facility, pauses to consider while her family and friends cut the cake. “Well, it’s special… and it’s not special,” she says. “There are so many things you don’t understand.” Another pause, followed by, “And why are you here – answer that?”

“Well… why are any of us here in the first place?” I counter.

“Yes, I guess that’s true…” she replies.

It’s a heavy philosophical question to ponder on one’s birthday, so here’s one that Edith Carr has had plenty of time to think about: How does one get to be 100 years old?

“I think it’s doing things, like those puzzles and reading and knitting,” she says, before adding a sentiment that is something like her mantra: “I’m blessed.”

Carr was born May 21, 1914, and lived her early life on a farm in the small community of Dashwood, Ontario (“picking’ potatoes,” she recalls). When asked if she has a first memory, Carr laughs, “Work!” but adds, “I had wonderful parents.”

In 1938, she married Bert Carr, a British-born barber, but after the couple had three kids, their life changed when he felt himself called to the ministry. Bert’s life as a pastor for the Evangelical United Brethren (now the United Church) sent the family to live in more than 20 towns and cities across Canada – including a nine-year stay in St. Jacobs in the 1950s, where they raised their children. “We moved so often, in good places no matter where we went,” says Carr.

“Her whole life, she shared with others,” says Carolyn Carr, Edith’s daughter-in-law. “They didn’t have much, but if it was a turkey at Thanksgiving, she’d invite people; if she had an extra something in her garden, she shared it.”

In 1989, the Carrs settled in Elmira, but moved again in 2003 to St. Jacobs Place when Bert required care and Edith didn’t want to leave his side (he died in 2004). “That’s a big thing, when you lose your better half,” she says. “But I’m blessed, I can’t complain. I have my ups and downs.”

With 11-and-a-half years at St. Jacobs Place, Carr is now the facility’s longest-standing resident, but she also has plenty of loved ones outside: She has seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, most of whom were at her birthday party last Saturday.

“How do you keep track of them all?” I ask.

“Well, sometimes you have to think… because they grow so fast!” she laughs. “And I wouldn’t want to do without the Lord – He helps me in times I don’t even think about it, and that is a plus in my life.”

Now entering her eleventh decade, Carr remains an active member of the community – retirement being only a state of mind. “She has a really big social group,” says Carolyn Carr. “She gets together with five ladies that are 30 years younger, and until a year ago she belonged to a knitting group at the church. Her social life has been very active, which is key to longevity.”

Carolyn adds, “The big thing is that she’s always stayed really active. She’s reading, she’s knitting, she’s doing word searches, and until very recently she went to exercise class twice a week.”

By now, the lure of the cake is calling, and Carr is ready to bid me adieu. But before she goes, she takes a moment to sum up her 100-year journey: “I had a good life. I just can’t complain,” she says, before adding, “I’m blessed.”

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