Published on January 07, 2013
Yarmouth resident Glenna King has some birthday cake on her 107th birthday. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on August 26, 2013
Glenna King at her 106th birthday in 2012. Note the bra she received as a gift. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on January 10, 2011
Then Yarmouth Mayor Phil Mooney and Yarmouth resident Glenna King share a laugh during her 105th birthday party at Vancouver Place Seniors Residence in 2011. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Vanguard associate editor Tina Comeau writes a weekly column called It's My Life. This week she writes about saying goodbye to a woman who was, literally, her oldest friend.
I only met Glenna King later in life.
Well, later in her life.
I knew of Glenna – she was the mother of my parents’ neighbour and the great-aunt of one of my best friends – but the first time I met her in person (at least that I can recall) was at her 105th birthday in January 2011.
Considering her age I was struck by how alert she was. Mostly I was struck by her smile. I liked her immediately and thought she barely looked a day over 80, let alone a day over 100.
From there it became an annual event for me to attend Glenna’s birthday parties at the Vancouver Place Seniors Residence and to snap a photo of her for the newspaper. She was at the time – at least we’ve never heard otherwise – Yarmouth’s oldest living citizen as each of her birthdays rolled around.
For her 106th birthday she received a push-up bra from her niece Sue MacKinnon. I’ll never forget the sight of Glenna holding up that floral bra – perhaps a little risqué for a woman her age. Everyone laughed, including Glenna, and I’m pretty sure I saw her blush.
Glenna, born a Murphy, grew up in Brooklyn in the era of horse and buggy. She grew up long before electricity was the norm in households, roads were paved and television was invented. Just imagine the things she witnessed in her lifetime. The changes. The wonderment.
The mother of six lived in her own home until the age of 102. Her parents died in their 60s and her husband Victor died in the mid-1990s. But Glenna’s surviving siblings have lived long lives into their 80s and 90s. (Her 93-year-old sister Marge, incidentally, gives the best hugs and she and I have already made a date for her 100th birthday party.)
Roseanne Webster, owner of the seniors residence on Vancouver Street where Glenna lived, often described her as the matriarch of the home.
“She has a kind word for everyone and everyone has a kind word for her. She’s just a gem in our home,” Webster had told me when I spoke to her in January around the time of Glenna’s 107th birthday. In fact I was a little surprised when Roseanne asked me, “Did you want to talk to Glenna on the phone?”
She still talks on the phone? I figured, though, it probably wasn’t an iPhone.
She also spent her days doing Sudoku, watching TV, and reading, including reading this newspaper.
“She’s really a cool person,” Roseanne had added. “Everybody loves Glenna.”
What wasn’t to love? I remember once joking with Glenna that if she had a high school reunion not only would she be the entire organizing committee, but she’d be the only one to show up as well.
I guess part of the reason I liked visiting with Glenna is because my grandmothers are both long gone. I was envious of Glenna’s family members that they could still visit with her. Still sit next to her and clasp her hand – there’s just something special about having a grandmother rub your hand in the way that grandmothers do.
Last winter, a couple of months before her 107th birthday, I wrote a story about Glenna and others at her seniors’ residence being introduced to a new form of technology, namely a Wii video console gaming system. They were trying their hand at bowling. Glenna being Glenna, while she found it tricky to get the hang of swinging the Wii controller in her hand in sync with what she was seeing on the television screen, she wouldn’t give up after knocking down eight pins. She was determined to get those other two. And eventually she did.
That day happened to be Take Your Kid to Work Day, so I had brought my son Jacob along for the visit. We also had a student named Akiho from the high school who was doing a co-op placement in our newsroom so I brought her too. I told them it wasn’t everyday they’d get to meet a woman who was on the verge of turning 107 years old. Later that day I witnessed my son sharing his experience with his friend Hunter, who was a member of Glenna’s family. I couldn’t hear what Jacob was saying, but I saw him swing his arm and then do a victory fist pump. Was he bragging that he had beaten Glenna at Wii bowling? I pointed out to him later that he had only knocked down two pins more than she had. And she was nearly 107 years old.
When I left Glenna’s 107th birthday party this year I wondered if I’d be at her 108th party, much the same way I had wondered if I’d be at her 106th and 107th birthdays. But a couple of weeks ago during my vacation my mom called me to say that, “Glenna wasn’t doing well.” It wasn’t a huge surprise.
“Well,” I said. “She is 107.”
Glenna died a few days later. I attended her Aug. 19 funeral last week where many of her family members told me they expected that I’d show up. How could I not, I told them.
After all, Glenna was literally my oldest friend.