Langley centenarian: “getting old is for the birds”

Lil Tuningley says she’s glad she lived when she did.

“It was a good life,” she said.

On the cusp of her 100th birthday, which will be celebrated with family and friends in late March, the Langley City resident says she wouldn’t do well in modern society.

“I won’t fit in with today,” she quipped.

The girl – who saved up and pooled her money with a friend to accumulate five cents then walked five miles to town for a shared ice cream cone before walking back home – is underwhelmed with today’s society and its emphasis on status and wealth.

“I have told my family don’t bring me anymore,” Tuningley said from her home at Magnolia Gardens.

She explained that people grew what they ate, a key factor in her longevity. Another is hard work on the farm.

As a kid growing up in Saskatchewan, Lillian and other kids would earn some money by killing gophers and turning in their tails. The government paid body parts from what were considered vermin animals that ate crops or harmed agriculture. They turned in gopher tails, crows’ eggs or crow’s feet – five cents was paid for a pair of crow’s legs.

She said people were more self-sufficient and didn’t have as much money.

Lillian dug up Seneca root which the local druggist would buy. She and her mother would collect the bleached out bones of buffalo to ship east. The bones were used to bleach sugar, as fertilizer and in some household items.

Her family made its own soap, vinegar and yeast on the farm, collected buffalo chips (dung) for fuel to burn in the stove, and cured meats.

“We would save it for Christmas to get something for grandpa,” Tuningley recalled.

Most times, kids ran around barefoot, so they didn’t wear out shoes, if they had them.

“I didn’t wear shoes until I was in Grade 5,” she noted.

Shoes were carried for the long walk to and from town then put on just before entering church. Her dad made the kids footwear out of moccasins for winter.

“We didn’t have any clothes closets because it was a different time,” she said. “I wish that my grandchildren could have that kind of life.”

Her family and others get a fascinating glimpse into life over the past 100 years because Tuningley started jotting journal entries each night before turning in for bed.

Family members have fashioned the decades of journaling into a book for when she turned 80. Then Lil kept on going so a second, updated edition has been created.

It recounts how her beloved sister, Ruby, died of cerebral meningitis in 1922 when Lil was four. The family didn’t have money to bring a doctor out from the city. Lil and her mom were quarantined after Ruby’s death with a Red Cross nurse.

“The neighbours made a coffin, and Mother put Ruby in it,” she wrote.

After a brief funeral the family returned home.

“Dad got all the bedding and clothes out of the house, poured gasoline on it and lit it, and put burning sulphur in the house,” she wrote.

Tuningley said the Depression was a tough time on the farm, with little rain and poor crops. “Hobos” would go to the Prairies to find work only to discover that it wasn’t much better than where they had been. She remembers seeing them riding on tops of rail cars and stopping by farms to ask for work.

One thing she does envy is that it’s easier in the modern age for people to pursue their dream job.

“My ambition was to be a nurse,” she wrote. “I knew it was a pipe dream as there was no money for my education.”

She married Jim Tuningley in autumn of 1936 in Watson, Sask. He served in the air force during the Second World War. While he was serving, she lived in Saskatoon in a house with 10 other girls, cleaning houses of well-to-do for $1 apiece. When he returned in 1945, they made their way out to the West Coast where his parents lived.

In addition to raising three children (Al, Delma and Lynn) they, at one point, had a bed and breakfast on Bowen Island where they lived for 25 years, bought and developed housing in Delta, had a farm in Maple Ridge and more. She worked for what would become Fraser Health for 40 years.

They moved to Walnut Grove in 1992. Jim died in Langley Memorial Hospital in 1999.

Lil worked for several years for the government before retirement. The gregarious great-grandmother of 12 said she’s had a good life but didn’t expect to reach 100.

“I spend a lot of time dreaming of the ‘good old days’. This getting old is for the birds,” she wrote.

Lillian Tuningley still cherishes the silk tulips her daughter, Lynn, purchased for her as a 16-year-old with the paycheque from her first job. That was around 1964. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)
Lynn, Delma and Allen Tuningley are the children of Lillian (Hill) Tuningley who is about to celebrate her 100th birthday. (Family photo)
Lillian Hill was very young when her sister, Ruby, died. (Family photo)
Family is planning a birthday celebration for late March for Lil Tuningley. (Submitted photo)
Lillian Tuningley often went on family camping adventures. (Family photo)

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