By Heather Killen
Esther Chute quietly defies people’s expectations of what someone of her age, gender and size is capable of doing.
The South Berwick woman has lost track of the number of stories that have been written about her, not to mention the letters and plaques she has received to recognize her on her 100th birthday. Aside from being impressed by her age, most people are amazed when they hear how much she does in the run of a day and how many jobs she has had over her lifetime.
Chute has been a teacher, a bookkeeper, a farmer, a landlady, as well as a mother, a grandmother and great-grandmother. Now she’s the new information officer in Berwick during the provincial election.
“I know everybody,” she explains with a smile. In the past she enjoyed working the polls, but a few years ago she admits being disappointed when she wasn’t being called to work.
“I think someone told them I was too old,” she said. If that’s true, whoever said that never met Mrs. Chute. She accomplishes more in a day than many people can boast about in a month. Aside from looking after her own house and running her own errands, she actively volunteers with a list of groups. She regularly attends church, square dances, bakes, hooks, sews and even finds time to knit end bits of yarn into baby hats and toe warmers that she gives away to the hospitals.
Chute has always packed a tight schedule and has a knack for switching hats in the middle of a day.
“I used to think there weren’t enough hours in the day,” she said. “Lately though by 10 p.m., I’m ready for bed.”
No one can blame her for being tired at the end of the day.
Throughout her 100 years, Chute hasn’t been one for wasting time. When she was born - April 18, 1913 - women were not eligible to vote, not considered people under the law and not expected to be employed outside the home.
She says growing up she wanted to work as a nurse, but her father advised her against it because he felt it would be too physically demanding for her slight build. Instead Chute went to Normal College and eventually got a teaching job in New Ross.
After she married, she gave up teaching and devoted herself to raising her two children and later helping to provide homecare for her in laws. While running a farm alone had not been part of her plan at 45, she found herself widowed and living alone in a 14-room house.
“I was left with it and I didn’t know whether to sell,” she said. “But I had lived there for 20 years and didn’t want to leave, so I made up my mind to farm.”
In those days it was rare for women to drive, but one of the first things she learned to manage on her own was a vehicle. She bought her first car with the proceeds of her first year’s apple crop and went to night school to pick up bookkeeping skills.
While she was no stranger to hard work and long hours, negotiating prices with peddlers and managing farm help was a challenge. She said she spent time in the warehouse where she worked and watched as produce was bought and sold, learned when they were spraying, picking up business savvy along the way.
She was profiled in a 1962 article in the Family Herald, The Triple Role of Esther Chute. At that time she had been a widow for a few years and was successfully juggling the full time office job, running the farm and still finding time for her grandchildren.
“I’d come home from work, change my clothes and go out in the fields,” she said. She ran the farm for about seven years before she finally sold it and moved to a smaller place.
Her part-time office job at Minas Basin Power Company soon turned into another career and at 65 when Chute “retired,” she had 25 years of full time service.
These days Chute tries to stay busy with the things she enjoys, like knitting, baking and cooking. She still keeps a few peach trees and gooseberry bushes and sells the extra crops.
She says her favorite hobby lately has been going through magazines and finding new patterns for knitting. She likes to give away the things she makes and hopes people won’t pack them away.
“I always tell them to use it,” she said. “If you have it, don’t put it away in a drawer.”