She was born into a world most of us cannot imagine – no planes, cars, buses, electricity, television or telephones.
She has lived through some of history’s most momentous events, including two world wars and the Great Depression.
She has also witnessed profound social changes, with trust and openness being replaced by suspicion and locked doors.
Jennie Sutherland seems to have had several lifetimes … and in many ways she has, for she is about to turn 105.
“Times have changed,” she says. But when asked whether for the better or worse, she replies: “A good question. I would say six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
Perhaps the biggest change for Jennie is the way neighbours treat each other.
“When I was growing up we never locked the door. Our neighbours could help themselves to food and drink from your house, because one day you might need them to do you a good turn. Nobody stole anything. That wouldn’t be the case today.”
On Oct. 4 Jennie celebrates her 105th birthday at Jubilee Manor, a supporting housing facility for seniors where she has lived since 1992. All seven of her children and their spouses will be present.
She will also be in the thoughts of her many other living descendants. The total number, including spouses, is 157, says her son Charles.
For a brief time Jennie’s suite will probably resound to the music of her youth, when she would sing and dance in the kitchen, trying to keep up her children’s spirits during the tough times of the 1930s.
Some of her favourite tunes, An Old Log Cabin for Sale and The Blue Danube, could well receive a fresh airing, says Charles. As for Jennie, she may not be able to dance any more, nor sing, and her eyes and ears don’t work as well as they used to, but she can still have a good time.
“I will be dancing in my head and my toes will be tapping,” she says.
And if there were candles on a birthday cake, could she blow them out?
“I could if you give me time,” she smiles.
Jennie Irene Thompson was born in 1906 in her mother’s twin sister’s home near Glenwood, Minnesota in the homestead farm of her grandparents who had come from Norway.
She was the ninth child of a family of ten that moved several times to Karlstad and Donaldson, Minnesota when she was about four, then to Bend, Oregon five years later.
In the spring of 1920 the family moved again to Barr-head to take advantage of the opportunity for each son to get a quarter of land cheaply. Jennie finished her schooling at Summerdale, just west of Barr-head.
Her teenage years were spent helping mothers in the community when they had a new baby and looking forward to the next community dance.
In 1927 she married William Sutherland, settling on his homestead at Summerdale and working hard through the Great Depression, which started on Oct. 29, 1929 with the stock market crash in the United States and spread to other countries, lasting until the early 1940s.
They were the toughest of times for the young couple as they tried raising seven children.
Jennie remembers her husband at one stage despairing of making ends meet, fearing foreclosure on their farm.
“He said ‘we don’t have any money. We are going to have to live on the road.’’’
They managed, however, to stave off disaster, husbanding resources and living on potatoes, eggs, milk and other farm produce to ensure their children never got hungry, even if it meant an unvarying diet.
“We used to say there was a choice of potatoes and eggs or eggs and potatoes,’’ says Jennie. “We also didn’t have any coffee so we tried roasting barley in the oven. In those days we had to learn to manage.”
Through all the hard times, Jennie, who sang alto with the Versatile singers for many years, never lost her spirit and sense of humour.
“She taught us songs and dancing, and always had a sense of humour,” says daughter Leona Stocking.
Good times began to return in the 1930s, thanks to a moratorium placed on farm mortgage foreclosures. The Second World War also stimulated industry and caused prices to rise, easing the pressure on farmers.
Finally, thanks to a bumper wheat crop, Bill and Jennie were able to pay off their bills.
In 1952 the couple moved to Barrhead and became well known librarians in the school and public library until 1970 when they retired.
Leona Stocking said her mother had been an avid traveller around Canada and the United States, fulfilling a dream when she saw the Grand Canyon.
“She also flew to Scotland to see the midnight sun, one of the other things she always wanted to see,” she added.