Written by Susan Weisenburger
A&W is the place to meet seniors (my age and older)! This time Spruce Grove A&W landed me a new friend on a Friday morning. Juanita (an alias) is quite used to meeting up with new people on her life’s journey. In fact she makes a habit of it. An old friend once warned her to always make new and younger friends along the way because old friends eventually die and one will always need company for the journey. She lives by that advice.
Juanita is a Ukrainian/Russian farm girl from Innisfree, AB. Her ancestors were dropped off in Winnipeg with a “Welcome to Canada” and then had to “do or die” without any government supports. They lived in sod houses and even used moss for diapers as they created and ran family farms. Juanita’s mother raised 6 children without power or running water including a set of triplets (who happened to be born on 2 different days!)
In 1974, as young adults, Juanita and her husband left the farm for Edmonton. Their dream was to build their own home on an acreage (a new idea at the time). To achieve this dream Juanita worked as a bank manager for 4 years at the age of 23 because there was lots of work and no one to fill the jobs. They lived like squatters so they would not have to carry a mortgage.
Spruce Grove had a population of only 342. To avoid the long drive back to Edmonton on building days Juanita and her husband would bring a face cloth to the Grove Motor Inn, wash up in the public washroom, have a few beers and then head back out to their tent trailer on the house site. The couple eventually had 2 children of their own and mom stayed at home to raise them. Because they loved farming these parents would pack up the kids and head to Vegreville every weekend to run their own grain farm. Juanita did some babysitting from 95′ – 99′ and then worked as a health care aide in Stony Plain until April of 2017.
Juanita and her son still live together on the acreage. They have a large yard, garden and FREEDOM. Although there are only 2 out of 34 original owners in their area the neighbours still look out for one another. Spruce Grove and Stony Plain are growing but they still have the “country feeling”. A person can still see a face and put a name to it. There is a slower pace of living here – different from the “cattle herding” that takes place in Edmonton.
Juanita is an adventure seeker and travels the world. Highlights have been Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, China, Nepal, South America, Africa, Tahiti, Russia, Beijing, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the Caribbean. “Life is for the living – with a few precautions!” She signs up for adventure tours because she wants to experience each location authentically. She remains a very fit woman who can put up a tent in Africa in 7 minutes and also climb mountains. She has slept in Buddhist temples and woken up to gongs. She knows how to subsist on the rations given to monks. She has visited substandard hospitals in the poorest parts of the world and now gives goats and chickens as Christmas gifts. Her motto – “Be the presence, don’t just give presents.”
Juanita believes “Canada is just too damn good for most people. They have no appreciation.” She does not like our “throw away” mentality and feels bad that Canada give preference to educated immigrants because, in that, we are taking away the hope of developing countries. She wants volunteers to actually volunteer and not expect “gifts for service” – this only prevents dollars from actually helping the cause.
Juanita believes that loneliness remains the biggest problem with seniors. They often want people to come to them but they resist going out. An hourly bus with affordable rates going about the area, however, would be of great assistance to help seniors feel safe and mobile. As long as we live Juanita believes we must develop our friendship circles and our interests.
Seniors do not have as much money as people think and so should be offered cheap social/entertainment events like music jams and dancing. Most dances run from 6 – 9 pm but if it’s a good party you should have the option to stay!
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