A typical interview question, when talking to somebody who has reached an age milestone, is to ask whether that person has any regrets, or whether there is anything they would do differently given a chance to go back in time. Barbara Risling, formerly of Scott, Saskatchewan, who turned 103 March 3, wouldn’t change a thing.
She said, “I had a good life. I had a good husband. I just enjoyed life and we enjoyed life together. I wouldn’t do anything different … I had a happy life and a good life.”
Although having to move into a care home in Wilkie, SK, Poplar Courts, in the fall of 2013 after living by herself in her own home up to then was difficult, she recognized it had to be done. After falling and breaking a couple of ribs, she told her son, Bill Risling, “Winter is coming and Scott is just a little town . What if I fall and you can’t get to me or we can’t drive in. I think it’s time.”
Being “102 and still taking care of myself at home, I didn’t want to do it but I did. I cried my heart out but I feel at home now,” she said. “Everybody seems to be my friend. They even grind my food for me. When they put me to bed, some of them, they even give me a kiss good night. I’ve settled down to life here. I’m okay now.”
And her friends still come to visit her. Every year in Scott, the ladies would get together and buy ice cream and cake to celebrate Barbara’s birthday. They would bring it to her house “to celebrate in my home.” Although “too many have died already,” those remaining all came to her 103rd birthday party in Wilkie last month.
When asked what she was most proud of, Barbara told a story about an event that happened when she was 80 years old. The story also provided the answer to another usual question asked, the one about advice for those who want to live to a similar good age.
When she was 80, a friend in Tramping Lake was celebrating a 90th birthday. Barbara’s niece picked her up and they went to the get-together in the hall at Tramping Lake. Another friend, also named Barbara and also 80 years old, was there as well. The two Barbaras and some others sat together at the same table.
Someone asked, “You ladies are both 80 years old and you both look good. What do you do, Barbara, to keep yourself like that?”
The other Barbara replied, “I smoke, I drink and I do very little work.” Barbara Risling replied, “I don’t smoke and I don’t drink and I still work hard. I make my own garden. I mow my lawn.” With two such opposite answers, everyone at the table had a good chuckle.
The next morning, Barbara Risling’s phone rang. It was the niece who had taken her to the party at Tramping Lake, with the news that the other Barbara had died in the night.
“That was 23 years ago and I still don’t smoke and I don’t drink. I can’t do hard work anymore but I still exercise.” Barbara does stretches every morning and evening. She started doing them after her husband died in 1987, and, she added, “to this day, I add more and more.”
At 95, Barbara planted her last garden. That summer she started having trouble with her balance and needed help to take the garden off in the fall. Her balance troubles also put an end to her annual appearances as a performer at the Wilkie Carol Festival.
Barbara, whose maiden name was Schneider, immigrated to Saskatchewan from the United States, with her family when she was six years old. Her family came to Revenue when she was seven, and that’s where she grew up and went to school. As a teenager, she used to help out in the field, looking after and driving a team of four horses.
Barbara remembers, “As soon as I could talk, I could sing.” When visitors came to the house, they would have her come and sing for them. “They gave me 5 cents and 10 cents for singing for them. I taught all my children to sing,” she said. “The whole family sings.”
At 103, Barbara is not on any regular medications. She drinks a can of Boost daily to ensure good nutrition intake. She walks on her own to meals every day, and was busy helping another Poplar Courts resident with a jigsaw puzzle the day of her interview.
Barbara credits her good health to daily exercise and Boost. “I eat good, I sleep good and Bill takes care of me,” she said.
For those interested in reading more about this remarkably resilient and contented woman, she was interviewed in July, 2000, as part of a North Dakota State University project exploring the stories of Germans who came to the United States from Russia. The interview can be found at http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/oral/samples/ppc24.html.