August 5, 2009

San Souci - Without A Care at 100

photo by Barb Nettleton

Here's a great article written by Carli Whitwell and taken verbatim from the Parry Sound North Star entitled 100 Years of Georgian Bay Summers. It's kind of long, but I think it's enjoyable. I can't believe she's 100 and the above photo is so good I think I'll paint it.

On summer afternoons, 100-year-old Gladys Clark holds court on the deck of her Sans Souci cottage, a rye and water — the only alcoholic drink she ever indulges in — in a tall glass on the table beside her.

She faces the bay and the gold and blue rocks that rise like the backs of whales out of the limpid water that’s so calm it feels like you’ve stepped into the eye of a tornado.

This scenery, while dazzling, is a bit of an old hat for Clark. She has spent every summer of her 100-year life at a cottage on these very rocks — and maybe even a summer before, says her roguish son-in-law Frank Nettleton.

“Everything changes,” says Clark, of growing up with six siblings on Sans Souci. “You grow with it and you don’t realize you’re 100 years old.”

Born on Jan. 11, 1909, the youngest child of Benjamin and Rachel Pearson, Clark’s fate has been intertwined with the bay since before she was born.

The Pearsons ran a grocery store in Yorkville, Toronto and were seeking a summer getaway for their large family — each parent would spend one summer month up north while the other ran the store. While initial forays led the family to Honey Harbour, recalls Clark’s only child Barb Nettleton, the joke is the family abandoned that idea because there were too many snakes and bugs.

The island cottage is about a half an hour boat ride from the Moose Deer Point Marina. Usually the family drives a 25-foot sport boat to navigate the familiar path to the cottage. Buster, an 18-When Clark first started coming to the cottage, the ride was very different.

She and her family sailed on the S.S. Waubic to a hotel on nearby Copperhead Island, then were taken by launch to the cottage.

“We were always terribly excited,” remembers Clark, her elegant fingers, the nails painted a dusky pink, clasped in her lap. Despite a mild stroke in March 2008, her mind is still sharp; the only thing affected is her short-term memory.

“We would watch the boats come through the channel there,” she recalls.

These brought both people and supplies for the cottagers. With no fridges or freezers in the first few years, Clark and her family would have to row about 30 minutes to Copperhead Island for supplies from the hotel there.

They also brought food with them in wooden crates to last from June to Labour Day — eggs in brine and butter that would be stored under the cottage.

The family would drink Georgian Bay water, and fresh milk from a cow on a nearby island was just rowboat ride away.

During the summer, there was no lazing about for the three boys and four girls in the Pearson family. The family voluntarily woke up at 6 a.m. and breakfast followed an hour later with fresh hot porridge prepared on the wood stove. Days passed fishing — Clark is sort of sick of fish now; “I had too much of it,” she says — picking blueberries, swimming and cleaning the cottage (everyone had a chore to do).

Sunday church services were held at a hotel on a neighbouring island.

“The day revolved around family life,” says Nettleton, who at 67, has never missed a summer on the bay either.

“Family is family,” agrees Clark, remembering nights she and her siblings would stay up late playing knock rummy, their mother never complaining at the noise they would make. “We were a close family so we didn’t care about anybody else here. We were happy to be here together.”

Long-time friend Robin Ogilvie says she was delighted to be invited into this tight unit.

A friend of Nettleton’s for 50 years, as a child and teen Ogilvie spent two weeks every summer with the Clarks. By that time Gladys Pearson had become Gladys Clark — she married horseman Thomas “Tommy” Clark — and the family had moved from the original family cottage into a cottage they built on the same island, where Clark has spent her summers since.

“I’ve never known anyone to get such pleasure out of the little things,” says Ogilvie, now 67, of Gladys. Whether it be egg salad sandwiches, a nice bath, an hour of the Young and the Restless, or her drink and “dividend” — when you finish your drink and pour yourself a little extra — Mrs. Clark, as Ogilvie called her then — reveled in life; her eyes always sparkling.

“She didn’t complicate her life … I think it’s the reason she’s still alive. She got a kick out of the small things, she kept organized and she wasn’t a worrier. She made us all enjoy those little things that make up the day.”

And, despite being a traditionalist and insistent on politeness and protocol, she was self-sufficient, working as a legal secretary.

She lived on her own after Thomas died in the 1980s until two years ago, only recently hiring a permanent caregiver.

At 89, when a fire broke out in her cottage, neighbours found her dousing the fire with a hose. A decade earlier, when she turned 80, she received a brand new rowboat as a present.
photo by Barb Nettleton

“She loved to row around the channels,” says friend Trevor Ham, who has known her for 35 years and has a neighbouring cottage. He pauses to tell a favourite story about the time he lent Clark his rowboat.

“I got to the dock hoping to get a drink and a dividend. Gladys came down and she sort of put her foot out and gently held me away from the dock: ‘Trevor,’ she said, it’s lovely that you brought the boat over and I would ask you up for a drink but I’m the only person on the island right now and it wouldn’t look right.’” photo by Carli Whitwell


Brian Miller said...

thanks for the smiles. i do believe it would mak a good painting...

Ima Wizer said...

Oh I wanna be just like her when I grow up!

Margaret Gosden said...

I am sure the key to a long life is 'not to complicate life' but, the longer I live, the more complicated life seems to become! Still, one can always try. An inspiring story - thank you!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Candie Bracci said...

She looks great!My greatgrandma dies at the age of 103!I remember the day they interviewed her for her 100th in the local newspaper!Cool!Have a nice day!:)

nevin said...

She is beautiful, just beautiful!

California Girl said...

Longevity runs in my family. If I have to live that long, I'd like to be as active is her! What a gal!

Ann said...

She is a great example of happy longevity. This was sweet. :) Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the nice words. Great little place you have here!

amourissima said...

what inspriation... thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you. This was my great grandmother, and she past away, but I know she died with her eyes closed and her heart open. Thank so much to all of you leaving wonderfull comments <3
-Live a beautiful life-