A Woman of the World

Liz, our Ambleside neighbour, is a woman of the world. At 91 years of age, she is a dynamo with a wealth of life’s experience she is more than willing to share. We have lived at the same end of the apartment corridor for nearly five years now, and, although my husband and I are here only intermittently, we are getting to know each other.

Liz was the child of a supermarket chain executive who lived all over western Canada when she was growing up, ending up finally in Vancouver. Thereafter, she lived in the United States, central Asia, and Ireland before settling back on the west coast. She has a personality typical of the highly mobile: an ability to adapt to constant change, inherent curiosity, and a warm congeniality which engages strangers quickly. It’s an openness to meeting people one often sees in expats and in the military.

The first day we moved into our Ambleside apartment, we established a bond. One of the movers had come to Canada from Afghanistan. She saw him, talked with him, and, within minutes, learned the same life story he had told me earlier. It turns out she had spent ten years in Afghanistan, from 1964-1974. She lived there with her husband who worked with an American company in diesel engines. At the time, Kabul was a bustling and romantic stopover on the route to India, before the city was devastated by the Russians, the civil war, and then the Taliban. Our son and daughter-in-law are career officers in the Canadian military. Both have deployed to Afghanistan several times. It’s not very often that one meets someone who has actually lived in Afghanistan for a decade. Liz joined us for dinner one evening when “the kids” were visiting. It was fascinating to listen to the stories they exchanged.

I later learned that Liz also lived in California for twenty years, and another twenty years in Belfast Northern Ireland. When her American husband died, she trained as a massage therapist and worked at the La Costa Resort and Health Spa in San Diego County. Her pay at this most expensive and exclusive of resorts was $3.57 an hour and Gloria Steinem was one of her clients. Later, she moved to Belfast to live with her widower cousin who was a writer and a playwright. When he died in 2005, she returned to West Vancouver to  the same apartment building once inhabited by her parents. 

Liz is a painter who studied at the Vancouver School of Art. Over her lifetime she has had many exhibits, Today, her paintings adorn the walls of her apartment and grace the foyer of our building. Thanks to Liz for permission to include some photos of her paintings in this post.

Liz knows how to drink scotch with the best of them. At dinner recently, she drank my husband under the table. She was going strong when he made his excuses to go to bed. Later she apologized for staying so late.

She has also taken me under her wing. She recently confessed that she hated older women wearing long hair. When I first moved into the apartment, I was sporting braids. It was part of my “return to my roots” post-retirement phase which my western cousins loved but my eastern colleagues said was totally unsuitable for Toronto. Last week, I was complaining that my hair was too long. She immediately went into her bedroom, took out a couple of combs, and taught me how to pull my hair up into something more sophisticated. My new look I owe to Liz.  I think I will keep it. And she has encouraged me to drink scotch: “it is the least caloric of the drinks.”

Liz has always been healthy and vigorous, until a freak accident recently left her in chronic pain. She now has a walker and is investigating how marijuana might improve her medical condition. She has visited a cannabis dispensary on Robson street, purchased some salves and tinctures, found a family doctor knowledgeable in the use of medical marijuana, and is consulting with others about appropriate strains. That, and her daily swimming, will undoubtedly keep her alive and kicking for at least another decade. We hope so. She is the most wonderful of neighbours.

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5 comments

  1. Kathy

    What a touching, funny and inspiring story – sounds like a life amazingly well lived – she sounds like the person most if not all of us would like to be at 91 – love the paintings, especially the one of the woman – though I am left with the feeling that I want to see a photo of the braids…

  2. Pam

    Thankyou for an accurate and elegant review of my wonderful Aunt Liz!! Your comments and observations are filled with a true knowledge of what makes “her tick” she is talented, engaging and naughty dynamite combination! Glad to be from that wonderful genetic pool.

  3. Barbara

    How great to read your writings on my old friend, Isobel (I have always called her that). She is indeed an extremely interesting person who I have had the good fortune of knowing for 60 years. She is one of a kind!,
    We have enjoyed many good times over the years and hope to for many more!

  4. Sara

    Let’s see the new hairdo! You can show Ellie how to do an updo…maybe she’ll like it better if Gramma Lane does it. Also interested in the medical marijuana experience for my mom. Can’t hurt to try for chronic pain! We’ll chat this weekend.

  5. Rita

    We met Liz in 1968 while also in Afghanistan; and I enjoyed many gourmet brunches and diners at Liz’s home. To this day we remain friends, even though I retired to Costa Rica in 1998. But Lizzie came down here to visit me! She is a fun, talented and quick-witted person and I surely do admire her!

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