Cheery, pink-clad and petite, Elfreda Anderson doesn’t look a day over 90.
She is though. Nearly 4,745 days over 90.
In February 2018, Anderson will be 104 years old. Sitting in her scrupulously clean Cloverdale home — pristine except for the black lines running parallel to the ground where her walker rubs against the walls and doors — Anderson retells the story of her birth.
It was 1914. The First World War was several months away, and New Brunswick was in the middle of a snowstorm. No doctor could get to the spacious house on the edge of the Bay of Fundy, where a woman was having her third baby: a little girl named Elfreda.
“My dad had to take over,” Anderson said about the night. Her father was “doing pretty good” delivering the baby, until he saw he was having his first girl.
“My mother said he got so excited it was so he couldn’t do nothing. And she was shouting at him.” Anderson laughed.
“‘Come on, come on. Do this. Do that’,” she said. “Anyway. I survived.”
“It was three or four days later the doctor got there and examined my mother and me. And he gave my dad a pat on the back and said, ‘Well sir you did a good job.’”
It was the start of a long and adventurous life, spanning two World Wars, the Great Depression, the launch of the space race, the creation of Nunavut and the introduction of internet.
Ask Anderson about her life, though, and you’ll hear about slightly different things. Washing dishes while standing on a chair, because she was too young to reach the counter. Her father buying their first car in 1924, and taking trips to the beach. Her mother falling ill when she was 14, and having to alternate between taking care of the family and going to school.
In her mid-twenties, Anderson went out to Saskatchewan with a friend to visit her aunt and uncle. She didn’t come home from that trip, as she had fallen in love with a local “prairie guy” and married him.
Two kids and six years later, Anderson and her husband moved to White Rock. Soon a family of five, they enjoyed a relatively quiet life in Burnaby and Surrey, going to the Rickshaw Restaurant on Friday nights for Chinese food.
At 61, her husband passed away. Not long after, Anderson retired. And then she decided to travel.
It started with a trip back to her childhood provinces on the East Coast when she was 66. At 68, she joined her eldest daughter Donna Phillips and Donna’s husband Lyle on a trip to Australia and New Zealand.
“I enjoyed so much of it,” Anderson said of the trip. “And then I couldn’t stop travelling and I had to keep going.”
Australia. New Zealand. Newfoundland. Oregon. Hawaii. Germany. Scotland. Austria. Denmark. Stockholm. Hong Kong. Singapore. Disneyland. The “Land of the Midnight Sun.”
“You name it, I’ve been there,” she said.
Her most profound trip was to “the Holy Land” she said. She went with her church’s minister and other church members when she was 69.
“They served what they called St. Peter’s fish,” she said about one of the places she ate on her trip. The fish was cleaned on the inside, but its head and tail remained on the plate. Anderson and the man beside her both ordered it.
“So I’m looking at it. I said, ‘Can you eat that fish?’” Anderson said. “He says, ‘Probably.’
“And I said, ‘Well I don’t think I can … Mine just winked at me.’” Anderson slapped her knee, then laughed.
“And so he looked at his again. He said, ‘My golly, I think you’re right.’”
Anderson travelled for 20 years, visiting the East Coast once again when she was 98.
“That was my last long trip,” she said.
She’s travelled around B.C. and Alberta into her hundreds, but in the last two years, she hasn’t gone far.
But “I still got my suitcase,” she said. “I wore two out, and I got the third one.”
Now, living in her Cloverdale apartment, life is a little more simple.
Her daughter Donna gets her groceries. Donna’s husband Lyle comes and washes the floors. Anderson cleans the rest of the house, and knits dozens of pairs of slippers.
It might be relaxed and simple now. But, as Anderson said, “it’s kind of a full life isn’t it?”