My grand­moth­ers were tougher than nails

The Amherst News - - CLASSIFIEDS - Diane Tib­ert Diane Lynn McGyver Tib­ert, au­thor of Scat­tered Stones, is a free­lance writer based in Cen­tral Nova Sco­tia. Visit her Roots to the Past blog (https://root­stothep­ to learn more about her ge­neal­ogy writ­ing.

At a birthday party for one of my sib­lings, the dis­cus­sion turned to age.

More se­ri­ously than jok­ingly, I said I had 49 years left, given that I was 51. My goal was to live a healthy 100 years. I added that even if I didn’t quite make it, if I didn’t at least reach 90, it was my fault.

Although life­style cer­tainly plays a part in longevity, as does luck, so do genes. While I’ll still be wear­ing blue jeans when I’m a se­nior, I’ll ap­pre­ci­ate my fam­ily’s genes more.

The av­er­age Cana­dian lives to 81.1 years. Fe­males en­joy a longer life span of 83.3 years while men av­er­age 78.8 years. These av­er­ages are more accurate to­day than they were more than 130 years ago when my fa­ther’s mother, Eva, was born in 1886. Back then, some would say they were lucky to see their late 40s. Ev­ery­one died young, but that wasn’t ex­actly true.

Life ex­pectancy is an es­ti­mate of the av­er­age num­ber of years peo­ple live in a cer­tain time. These num­bers don’t tell the whole story and must be part of the over­all re­search. In­fant mor­tal­ity played a huge role in low­er­ing the av­er­age age of death.

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, the life ex­pectancy for some­one in 1921 was 57.1. The stats in­di­cate more than 25 per cent of

chil­dren born died be­fore they reached the age of one. In 2011, that de­creased to less than 1 per cent. As a re­sult, life ex­pectancy grew to 81.7 years. In 1921, if a child reached their 10th birthday, they had an ex­cel­lent chance of reach­ing old age.

The high num­ber of in­fant deaths sur­prised me be­cause Eva was 35 in 1921, and she had suc­cess­fully given birth to 10 chil­dren. My fa­ther, num­ber 11, was born in 1922. All her chil­dren lived to old age, in­clud­ing the six chil­dren born af­ter my fa­ther. There’s no record of her los­ing a child.

My mother’s mom, Pri­ma­dine, was born in 1904 and saw her five chil­dren grow into old age.

The high death of in­fants aside, other fac­tors must be con­sid­ered, in­clud­ing the in­flu­ence of world events on the male pop­u­la­tion. My grand­moth­ers were not ex­pected to serve in the First World War but men were, and their deaths in­flu­enced the life ex­pectancy age gap be­tween males and fe­males.

These days, stress plays a role in our health and can re­duce our life ex­pectancy. Older gen­er­a­tions were made of tougher stuff. My grand­moth­ers both lost their fa­thers when they were in their mid-teens, forc­ing them to take on adult re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The deaths of Eva’s two sis­ters-in-law made her par­tially re­spon­si­ble for rais­ing two neph­ews. She also raised two grand­chil­dren.

The fa­ther­less women saw fam­ily and neigh­bours serve overseas dur­ing wars, in­clud­ing four of Eva’s sons. They had also wit­nessed the deaths of many due to Span­ish In­fluenza.

Through the years of giv­ing birth, rais­ing chil­dren, and liv­ing with no mod­ern con­ve­niences, they en­dured sick­nesses, the tsunami of 1928 (struck Pri­ma­dine’s com­mu­nity) and the De­pres­sion.

Eva reached the age of 92, and Pri­ma­dine com­pleted 97 years. They were tough women, sur­vivors, pi­o­neers who did what had to be done. Their lega­cies are tough to live up to. I’ll be for­tu­nate to see 90 - mom’s cur­rent age. When I do, I’ll be think­ing of all three women.

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