AMHERST, N.S. – When you’re born on Boxing Day, your birthday often gets overshadowed by the holiday season and forgotten by many. But everyone will be taking notice of Mary Allen’s birthday this year, when she turns 100 on Dec. 26.
In spite of the fuss that comes with such a milestone, Allen is treating this birthday just like the previous 99.
“It’s pretty much the same as all the others,” she said.
Mary Graham was born on Dec. 26, 1916 in Rolling Dam, N.B., the youngest of four sisters. She grew up and attended the one-room schoolhouse there, and then headed off to teachers’ college in Fredericton, and began her career as a teacher, spending 10 years teaching at one-room schoolhouses in New Brunswick in the 1930s and ’40s.In 1945 she married airman Walton “Wally” Allen of Amherst Head, and moved with him there. They operated a small family farm, had five children, and he went on to a career as an electrical contractor.
Go to bed early, work hard and eat well. –Mary Allen
“He was one of those people that could do anything,” she recalled. “We settled back on the farm in Amherst Head and lived there. He did his thing and I did mine.”
Mary took 10 years off from teaching after she got married, but resumed her career in 1955, first teaching at the school in Amherst Head, and later at the Sir Charles Tupper Elementary School in Warren, where she taught Grade 4.
Working full-time and helping run a farm while raising five children kept her busy.
“It was a lot of hard work, there wasn’t any slacking,” she said. “I was up early every day, and still get up early.”
Her daughter, Beth Greene, recalled those days with fondness, particularly Sundays at church, where her mother sang in the choir.
“My mother could control us better from the choir than most could sitting right beside you,” she said, with a laugh. “She just had a look that would let us know if we weren’t behaving as we’d been taught. She was a really good mother to us.”
Allen retired from teaching in 1977, but continued to live and work on the farm until she was 89, tending her garden and climbing three flights of stairs to tend the furnace. She moved to Amherst, and continues to live there at Centennial Villa, where she enjoys good health.
“I’m healthy as a horse, but the only trouble is my legs – my balance isn’t very good,” she said. “Other than that I’m really healthy.”
Her daughter Heather Donnelle lives in Amherst and is a frequent visitor, while her other children are spread around the country. Graham lives in Fredericton, Peter lives in Yellowknife, Beth lives in Newfoundland and Stephen lives in Ottawa. She has 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
The family got together with her in August for an early birthday celebration, and some will be able to make it on Monday for her actual birthday, where they plan to have her favourite, seafood chowder.
Greene said she is always impressed with her mother.
“Mentally, Mom is as sharp as ever, and physically she’s in pretty good shape,” she said. “There are some ravages of time, but other than that she’s doing great.”
Does she have a secret to her longevity?
“It’s the same old story,” said Allen. “Go to bed early, work hard and eat well. I didn’t eat a lot of fancy food but I ate a lot of good food that we grew on the farm.”