Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Lorna Ruppel- 100 Years of Memories

     Speaking to the 100 year old Lorna Ruppel was an experience much different than any other interviews I've done. I must admit, I didn't aim to speak specifically to her at first, just someone who was over 100. I had the idea that it would be an incredible experience, and it was. Someone who has lived in the past 100 years or more (as in, 1912-2013), such as Lorna, has experienced some of histories greatest inventions or moments, and some of our darkest too. Think of the things that have happened; born just before the First World War, entered teenage years at the beginning of the Great Depression, was in her mid-twenties when World War Two began, and saw inventions such as cars, computers, phones and televisions develop to the level that no one could of ever predicted when she was born. I mean, the internet wasn't even made publicly available until she was 80!
     The set up was a bit different that I had ever experienced, also. That is, it wasn't just me that had the chance to ask some questions. There was Lorna's daughter-in-law, her great-grandaughter, even my photographer had the chance to ask some questions. When the first part of the interview was done, even more people joined us. Another daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, a grandson-in-law, a pet cat. All ready to tell me stories, adventures, and experiences they've had with the lovely lady I had the chance to meet that they themselves had the chance to call “mom”, “grandma”, or “great-grandma.” Or, in the cats case, just bug me to be pet. It was a time of assorted stories as opposed to a straight life story, but I loved that I could hear it nonetheless. For your enjoyment, here are some stories of the wonderful, nearly 101 year old, Lorna Ruppel.
     Lorna was born on November 8th, 1912 in Ottawa, although birthdays aren't really thought about much these days. Growing up, she was in lucky in regards to the fact that her father never had to go fight in Europe, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have memories of the Great War that was happening between the time she was two and six. By the family house was a park, and in this park, soldiers routinely marched and practised drills to go, and possibly die, for Canada.
Her father was an accountant, but her mother was the real business lady. This luck of being employed lasted into her late-teens, when the Great Depression spread across the World. But as she said, mother saved them from the Depression trials. By then, the family lived in the Kitchener area, and owned a dry-cleaning business, the brain child of her mother. She recalled how things were really difficult, people were troubled, but her parents and family made it, year by year.
Just before the Depression though, Lorna recalls how her mother made her get a job. As she said, “you were supposed to be 16 to get a job, but when I was 15, my mother told me I had to get one myself.” So, at age 15, she became a Bell telephone operator and that was that, a job she'd continue as long as she could remember. As she described, “she kept her nose to the grindstone and stayed out of mischief”, even when the news came that Canada was entering what would be then known as the Second World War. She can't recall personally helping with the war effort, she can't recall hearing about some of the big events in the news such as Dieppe Raid or D-Day, but the reaction when the war ended? That, she remembered. People stormed the streets, cheers abound, banging their pots and pans together, just happy that after nearly six years, the war was finally over.

Lorna telling her story
Photo by Victoria Alexander

     One story from her life that Lorna mentioned to me, with a little bit of a reminder from her daughter-in-law, happened during the years of World War Two. From what she mentioned, and from what I was told from her family, she was head over heels for her husband, Homer (although, she wasn't a fan of the name Homer at all). They first met when she lived in Kitchener. A few properties down the street from them was a tennis court, where Homer and his sister would play tennis. Lorna and her sister would go down there sometimes to play as well. Well, that's the story she told at least. Her granddaughter told me she always found it odd how Lorna only brought one racquet between the two of them, a coincidental conversation starter with the boy whom she would later marry. When World War Two came along, her husband was sent to be trained to go to Europe and fight (which is luckily never had to do). While training in Chilliwack, British Colombia, Lorna with her young two-year-old child, missed him more than she could imagine. So what did she do? She sold her house, boarded the train with her two-year-old son in tow, and surprised her husband at the military base.
     Unfortunately, she couldn't stay on the base with him, so she took up a room in a hotel, where Homer would visit when he could. As the money started to decline, she realized she had to leave the hotel. She gathered a few of her possessions, and with her son, amidst the Fall rains, she stayed at a local park for a few nights. Just the two of them, spending some solitary nights together alone and vulnerable. It wasn't very safe, and it wasn't the best for her child, but it was all they could do. She realized she had to find something else. The park wasn't safe, the hotel was to expensive, so she started knocking on doors, asking for a place to stay. Right when she was about to give up from all the no's she received.. someone said yes, and they were saved. After a sad Christmas missing home, she went back to Kitchener (shaking her head that she didn't consider just renting the house out), and moved into an apartment. Later she would be reunited with her husband Homer, and in a few years she would have her second son, making the family complete.

     It's stories like these that I love hearing. When I asked “what's life like now”, she replied with a sigh and a smile saying “well, life is good.” She spends her days making dolls, reading her mystery books and watching curling. She enjoys beating her children-in-law, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren at cards (she always wins) and occasionally listening to big bands on the radio (Lawrence Welk was always a favourite). To me, she seems like an amazingly happy lady, and probably one of the sweetest people I had ever met.
     To me, she taught me the valuable lesson of “not judging a book by the cover”. She may be a 100 year old lady now. But she was also the little girl watching the soldiers train, she was the teenager who “forgot her second racquet”, she was the loving mother and wife who traveled thousands of kilometers across the country to be with the person she loved (even if it meant a few nights in a park), she's the lady who has never touched a computer, the lady who happens to be a direct descendant of Mr John McIntosh (the founder of the McIntosh Apple), and now the loving great-grandmother of a friend of mine.
I asked what being Canadian meant to her, a question I always ask at the end of an interview. She told me it was wonderful, “great to be a Canadian” in her eyes. She felt somehow more comfortable with the thought of living in Canada, and in 100 years, has never considered leaving. Sure, troubles arose in her life. They always will, no matter who you are. But she told me that “all these problems came up, but I was always able to cope. I always was able.” Lorna Ruppel is an amazing lady, and although I'm a six months early.. I would love to wish Lorna a happy 101st birthday! 

100-Year-Old Lorna Ruppel, her great-granddaughter, and myself.
Photo by Victoria Alexander

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