After a century of life, understandably, Sylvia Peecock’s brain sometimes needs a bit of a break. But in the moments of clarity, her true personality shines through: playful, adventurous, and optimistic.
“A party? Anytime!” said Peecock upon being reminded she’s having her 100th birthday party this week.
“She was literally born in a house made of sod,” said her daughter Rhoda Taylor. “When she was born they had no running water, no electricity, no car and when she started work as a teenager, she was kind of a maid/housekeeper/childminder at a house in town and the nine-year-old boy had to teach her how to use the phone because she’d seen one but never used one.”
Needless to say, a lot has changed this past century. The biggest life altering change: the advent of birth control, Taylor said, adding that both her grandmother and mother believed birth control finally gave women a choice about which direction to take their lives.
Peecock chose adventure.
“There’s a story that during the war before she joined the military, she was working packing apples in the Okanagan with her sister. She wanted to go home. Home was where the Trans Canada is now, Irvine, right on the boarder of Alberta and Saskatchewan,” Taylor recalled. “So they got on their balloon-tire, no-gear bicycles and rode from Kelowna, where they were packing apples, to Irvine, over the Rocky Mountains on the old Big Bend Highway with a bedroll on the back. Until the day she died, Ann blamed Mom for it. She said she had to go along because Mom would have gone alone.”
“That was a long time ago,” Peecock added. “It’s changed.”
Taylor almost forgot to mention that her mom and aunt were chased by bears along the way.
“Enormous creatures,” Peecock said.
That wasn’t the worst of it. One time, with a bear on their tail, they tossed their bikes into the back of a stranger’s truck and he took them to his house.
“He wouldn’t let them leave his place until he’d clean the place and cooked his meal,” she said. “You’d think now, alarm bells are going.”
Taylor said her mom chalked it up to being “a little strange but it was OK.”
Peecock never finished high school but she did become a drill sergeant in the Canadian military during the war.
“She married my father and travelled all over,” Taylor said. “She’s literally been to every continent except Antarctica.”
After growing up in Alberta and spending her working years travelling with the military, Peecock and her first husband eventually retired to Victoria.
“My father died when she was in her early 60s and she remarried so she’s actually had two silver wedding anniversaries [25 years],” Taylor explained.
That’s not surprising in her family, it seems. Everybody seems to live a very long time. It’s in the genes.
“She’s always been physically active. She did exercises her whole life, she climbed mountains into her 80s, she drank moderately, didn’t smoke, and grew up on what our dietitians talk about all the time, ‘close to the ground and close to home’,” said Taylor. “Her brothers who didn’t live as healthy a lifestyle, died earlier (92, 93) so the secret to the 100 is probably being physically active but on the other hand being able to climb mountains in your 80s comes because you’re pretty tough stuff.”
When Peecock’s second husband died she stopped driving and opted instead to move to Cowichan to be closer to Taylor. Not driving didn’t seem to slow her down.
Peecock volunteered a regular shift at Duncan’s Sassy Lion charity store until her 96th birthday.
“She kept herself active and working and being out and about and being connected. She’d get up, pack a lunch and go to work most days. She consciously worked at staying engaged and being involved.”
Though life is not what it used to be, there are still some blessings.
“Sometimes now when we’re driving she’ll see something and it’ll trigger a memory. One of the joys of her living this long, for me, is that I’m hearing stories I’ve never heard,” Taylor explained. “Things from her childhood or background that I wouldn’t in any way have been told, she’s now telling.”
The centenarian’s determination has not diminished over time.
“She’s determined to get the letter from the Queen. That’s the goal,” Taylor said. “Because the Queen is a few years younger than she is, she’s followed her all the way through and she’s quite determined to get the letter from the Queen. That’s a goal, more than the 100th birthday, the goal is the letter from the Queen.”
And no doubt she’ll do it, too.
“She’s not been afraid of challenge,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t matter what obstacle there is, she would find a smile. And her response to anything is just to work harder.
“She lived her life fearless. If somebody asks how you get to be 100, that’s how.”