It’s hard to believe Bess Wayslow will be 100 on Monday.
The short, bespectacled white-haired woman, whose heart beats with the help of a pacemaker, lives independently, moves nimbly, speaks quickly and is swift with dates.
Having lived 26 years longer than both of her parents, she believes the keys to longevity are simple.
“Just to be busy and be happy and be with people,” said Wayslow, who lives across the street from the Kerrisdale Seniors Centre. “I have to get out every day for a walk and come in here and see who’s here. Monday I’m here with the knitters, Tuesday’s my laundry day, Thursday I’m here selling [crafts and jewelry], Friday I’m here playing bingo—and the week is gone.”
The seniors centre planned to celebrate Wayslow’s birthday with a party Thursday after the Courier’s press deadline. Wayslow’s two daughters, one 77 and the other 67, from out of town, and her girlfriend from her hometown Saskatchewan farming community were to attend along with her three granddaughters, younger sister, four nieces and nephews.
“To me it’s just a number, I feel good. I’m OK here,” she said, tapping her skull. “I look after myself. I do my own cooking and eat properly, and I take a cane out now for protection that I don’t lose my balance.”
On the advice of one of her daughters, Wayslow started visiting the park board’s Kerrisdale Community Centre in 1985, one year after the death of her ailing husband, whom she nursed at home for 14 years.
She kicked up her heels in Scottish, square and line dancing and danced with the group the Pearlies, which performed around town and at Expo 86. She joined the knitting group and took over when the woman who ran it died. “I said I’ll give it a try, and I’m still there,” Wayslow said.
She overseas The Busy Bees, a group of a dozen knitters that each year earns $8,000 for the adjacent seniors centre by selling items that include tea cozies, adult and baby sweaters and knit baby blankets. “Nobody does the sewing but me,” said Wayslow, who favours stitching, stuffing and selling baby quilts, often with donated fabric.
They cost her $17 to make. She prices them at $40 and sells 50 a year.
Wayslow, the eighth child in a line of 13, started sewing alongside her three older sisters when she was 12.
“Dad got us two outfits for Christmas, Easter, but the everyday clothes and for school, we made them,” she said.
“I feel good about it because I feel I’m still useful,” said Wayslow, whose only paid work outside of the home was a stint as a part-time pastry chef. “It gives me something to do.”
Wayslow and a helper sell goods handmade by seniors and secondhand jewelry at the seniors centre on the corner of West Boulevard and West 42nd Avenue every Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Prices start at 50 cents for a piece of costume jewelry, $4 for a child’s apron and $5 for a hand-knit baby toque.