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Regrets too few to mention - let the record show Cecily has done it her way

Opinion

Meet Cecily the centenarian, who describes herself as “old as the hills, blind as a bat and deaf as a post, but sharp as a tack”, writes Rebecca Levingston

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“I can’t see you but it’s nice to meet you,” Cecily yells within seconds of me opening her front door.

I walk inside the home she’s lived in for 50 years to wish her happy birthday.

Cecily Walker is turning 100 on Valentine’s Day.

The piano in her lounge room is obscured by cards from the Queen, Prime Minister, Premier and Governor … boy, she’d have plenty to say to each of them. Cecily is cracking company.

Sweet and fierce in equal measure. I guess when you live to 100 you speak your mind. If you’re fortunate enough to have a head full of memories you can recall, you rightly get the spotlight.

“I’m as old as the hills, blind as a bat and deaf as a post, but my doctor says I’m sharp as a tack.”

Cecily the centenarian has quite the story, but I didn’t expect it to involve Jesus and a clairvoyant.

Born in Gympie on the 14th of February 1921, Cecily’s father was a banana and dairy farmer. Her mother was a pianist but had a serious accident that left her with a permanent disability. Cecily remembers spending a lot of time inside her house avoiding red-bellied black snakes. She was an only child.

“I was fairy mad as a five-year-old,” she tells me as I marvel at the sharpness of her recollection from the 1920s. She remembers her mother opening The Gympie Times one day and pointing out a baby girl who Cecily thought might be a real fairy. But she was in fact a princess. Her mother explained that this little baby’s Grandaddy was the King of England and promptly pinned the newspaper clipping onto the curtain. Cecily thinks it’s marvellous that the baby in the paper has now sent her a birthday card.

The family moved to Brisbane when Cecily was eight. Her father was a shopkeeper and Cecily worked in the store after she left school at fourteen. But her real love was caring for children.

She was baby crazy, always minding neighbourhood kids and pushing prams. She became a Godmother at 21, which she says was her happiest day. Cecily cared for both her parents who died quite young. Only 30 when she lost her mother and 40 when her father passed away. An only child, now alone.

“I never fell in love,” she says, saying she was too busy looking after her parents and other people’s children. She put a lot of colour and care into the lives of others quite literally.

Cecily was a photographer’s colour artist by trade. Black and white wedding photos were hand-coloured with oil. The profession disappeared when colour film arrived. She still loves colour and on the day we met, she asked me whether her lipstick matched her dress. It did.

She still lives in her own home thanks to regular visits from Communify.  Godmother to six children who’ll help celebrate her century, Cecily never had any children of her own.

When I ask if she has any regrets, Cecily quotes Frank Sinatra…

“I’ve had a few, too few to mention… I love that song.”

She wishes she’d travelled more. She’d love to see the tulips in Holland. Perhaps living through a world war gives you an appreciation for simply surviving. Cecily remembers blackout curtains on her 21st birthday and dancing in the street when the war was over.

So what does she make of the world today? She thinks people are too focused on money.

Then Cecily tells me a story I did not expect from a 99-year-old whose home has framed pictures of Jesus and bible quotes on the wall. When she was 17, she was asked to check on an elderly lady who was a clairvoyant. Cecily’s mother, a devout Christian, warned her about conversing while caring – “Don’t you listen to anything that woman says.”

During her visit, Cecily was prattling on about how she was going to have lots of children, when the fortune-teller sat her down and said, “You will never have a child.” Why? “Because you are a born mother – put on the Earth to mother other people’s children. You will never have a child of your own, but you will give your life to children.”

“And by God I did,” says Cecily leaning back into her lounge chair on the eve of her 100th birthday, pondering the accuracy of the forbidden prediction.

Sometimes she feels dreadfully alone and wishes people had more time to visit.

When she’s asked what she wants for Christmas each year, she says she’d just like to be taken for a drive. Last year 11 boxes of chocolate and 12 tins of biscuits arrived but she’d rather people took the time to talk.

“Old age is the pits,” she admits.

I ask her what she thinks about death.

Death is hard to accept and hard to explain she says. She tries to imagine what heaven might be like. She’d love to think she’s going to meet up again with family, but she questions whether that can be possible. She’s tried to talk to Ministers of the Church and says they change the subject. She suspects that maybe they don’t know. I love that she’s bold enough to ask.

I resist the urge to ask cliched questions about the secret to a long life, but I am curious about what she eats.

“I’m a meat ant. I loved a roast lamb or a lovely steak with the blood still running out of it,” she says kissing her fingers. She doesn’t have a sweet tooth and has never had a drink. No champagne at the party on Valentine’s Day.

Cecily sends me back out her front door, quoting Sinatra again …

“There were times, I’m sure you knew, I bit off more than I could chew, but I chewed it up and spat it out … let the record show I took the blows, and did it my way.”

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