The first thing she does when she sits down beside me is introduce herself and tell me that she is almost as old as the Stampede. “I’ll be 97 in September,” she says, her eyes twinkling brightly, her smile warm and inviting. “I’m only 5 years younger than the Stampede!” she adds with enthusiasm.
Her name is Riva. Petite. Energetic. Feisty. She doesn’t need a walker. She doesn’t need a cane. “I stay active,” she tells me when I ask her her secret to life. “I’ve never met an opportunity to have fun I haven’t taken,” and she claps her hands, laughs and adds, “And I always have fun at Stampede.”
For Reva, these are not just words. The day before, she was up at 5:30 am and out of the building at 6 to volunteer at Kids Day at the Stampede. “We served 32,000 people breakfast,” she tells me. “You should have seen all the excitement! It was such fun.”
“They’ve already booked me for next year,” she says and adds confidently, “I’ll be there.”
Last night, my mother’s senior’s centre held its annual Stampede bash. About 150 residents and family turn up for the event which includes not only the prerequisite beans and other Stampede fare, but also a band, which is why Riva is so excited. “I love to dance,” she says. “Always have. Even as a little girl.”
And dance she does. Her feet are tapping under the table the moment the band begins to play. “Would you like to dance?” I ask her and she doesn’t hesitate. She is up out of her chair and on the dance floor in a flash leaving my youngest daughter, who has joined my mother and me for the dinner, trailing behind her.
Reva is indefatigable. She keeps in step. She moves her feet, turns around, claps, laughs, shakes her hips, throwing her whole being into the dance. And in between songs, she doesn’t really sit down as much as simply walk to her seat, take a breath and a sip of water only to return to the dance floor for the very next song.
I look around the room where there is proof that women do outlive men by vast margins — the audience is mostly women. They sit in their chairs and all of them are smiling at Riva as they watch her dance. Their bodies are moving to the beat of the music. Their feet tapping under the tables, their hands tapping on the table tops. Country and rock merged together. Nothing too fast but all of it with a good beat to follow. I ask a couple of women to come up and dance but mostly they demur. Some of them tell me they used to dance. One woman shares she’s won 6 ballroom competitions. Another tells me about dancing with her husband at their wedding.
One woman, Zaza, gets up with her walker and takes a few spins on the dance floor. Her smile lights up the room.
But few get up to dance.
A couple of the men get up to ask someone to dance. One of them asks my daughter. When they finish, he comes and asks me. “I can’t believe you’re her mother. I thought you were sisters.” I laugh and we take a turn on the dance floor.
“I’m Claudio”* he says. “Are you Italian? French?”
“My mother is French,” I reply.
“Of course. I should have known,” he says with a big smile. “The most beautiful women in the world are all French.”
And then he asks me my name and how to spell it. Without missing a beat, he tells me the meaning of each letter of Louise.
“L is for Lovely. O is for Original. U is for unique and I is for Intelligent and Irresistible. S is for Sexy and the E is for Exceptional.”
“You’re quite the sweet talker,” I laugh in response.
And he laughs back and tells me of his journeys around the world where he worked in the oil patch and never ever wanted to settle down. “I married once,” he says. “But it didn’t last long. The world is filled with too many beautiful women and I couldn’t just stay with one.”
“And here I thought I was special,” I say with a laugh.
“You are!” he replies. “You’re a woman and every woman is special.”
Definitely a sweet talker.
It was an evening of big smiles, big hearts and big words too!
And through it all, I was enchanted by a 96 year old woman who reminded me that age is simply a number. That life doesn’t happen on the sidelines. It happens when we get out of our seats, and get moving. It happens when we throw ourselves into the dance and live it up for all we’re worth.
I think I might just sign up with Reva to volunteer for next year’s Kids Day breakfast too!