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Day 32: Nonagenarian

Ruth Gedye turned 90 today!

My mother-in-law Ruth Gedye (nee Andersen) was born on the 1st of February 1917 in Levin. She now lives in Wanganui and today she turned 90 years old. Her light is still burning very brightly and from what I can tell it is showing no sign of dimming even slightly if she has her way. Ruth can now add nonagenarian to her credentials! I find this incredibly impressive. It is even more of an achievement when you know this woman and her life story. Her mind is so astute, and I am so inspired by her love of life and living.

Ruth has many stories to tell, ideas to share, and endless drive. In fact she has more energy than many people I know that are half her age. My husband Lynsey (the youngest of her six children) affectionately refers to her as the ‘great white’ because she is like the shark – you don’t dare stand in her way when she is on a mission.

Ruth is passionate about everything. In a world where ‘blah’ is the accepted norm on just about everything there is Ruth; her sense of humour, her strong presence, her outspokenness, her compassion, her determination, her love of learning, and her wisdom. She is so much more than a survivor of life; she embraces it with open arms. Every time we visit her, or talk to her, she has something exciting to tell us. Her days are full and I keep wondering if she will ever slow down. In a recent family history she wrote:

I have retired, not retreated. I feel my life has not been in vain. I have no complaints this is my lot and I have been happy with it.

Source: Pedersen, C. (2004). Christopher Andersen (Bestafar) and Johanna Kirstine Sorensen (Bestamor): Their Life Their Family. (p.48)

I smiled as I read this. In the seven years I have known Ruth I haven’t seen even the slightest hint of retreating. In fact I feel it is quite the opposite; it is a struggle to get her to slow down for any reason.

One of her absolute passions is food – growing, cooking, and eating it. Her baseline marker of a successful event always centres on the food that was served. She is always in the kitchen and to this day she cooks all her own meals, bakes, makes jams, pickles, sauces, etc. These skills are part of a dying art. Many women today have wonderful kitchens full of all the latest appliances but they have no idea, nor no desire, to use them to cook. Their kitchens are show pieces. Ruth’s kitchen is directly connected to her heart.

For 18 years Ruth was a cooking demonstrator for Atlas appliances. She has told me numerous stories of her experiences travelling around the country with this job and the people she met. She has even written a successful fan oven cookery book which was the first of its kind ever to be published.

I have felt that there was a need for a cookery book for this unique method of cooking, namely ‘Thermowave’, with precise heat. The old saying A few women are born cooks may be true, but I am convinced, that with ‘Thermowave Cookers’ and all the modern cooking aids, there will be hundreds of cooks made.

I have tested and made every recipe in this book, and I am sure you will find them easy to prepare and bake, with success every time.

Source: Gedye, R. (1978). Cooking with Ruth Gedye and Thermowave. Wanganui, New Zealand: Wanganui Newspapers Ltd. (p.1)

This is a far cry from her earliest experiences as a young girl of using a wood and coal range to cook with.

The old black beast (Shacklock) was cleaned and polished weekly, depending on what wood was used. If coal was the fuel there was always plenty of black soot about and the whole kitchen had to be cleaned as well. Different wood produced different qualities of heat.

For a great number of years, all meals, jams, pickles, preserves and huge pots of soup were cooked to perfection on the top of the range. Scones, bread, cakes, even delicate sponge cakes and wonderful roasts all came from the oven. I would defy any baker to do better with all their modern equipment. I have never tasted a better rice pudding than that which came from the old black beast. The art to using a range oven was knowing when it was hot enough as there was no temperature gauge.

In spite of the heat (especially making jam and preserves in the summer) and the cleaning, there has been nothing as cheap or as useful as a range … great value for money. Once it was lit for the day the house was heated, baking done, al meals cooked, surplus fruit stored for winter, as well as hot water, drying and airing clothes. It was always a comfort on cold wet days, to toast ones feet in the oven or to have a ‘warm-up’ before facing going outdoors to do farm work. One could even have a bath in front of it. I remember a pair of work boots being oven baked!

Source: Gedye, R. (2004). From wood, coal and kerosene to electricity in Makerua. In Pedersen, C. Christopher Andersen (Bestafar) and Johanna Kirstine Sorensen (Bestamor): Their Life Their Family. (p.117)

At 90 Ruth still runs a small home business where she bakes slices for a local hotel. She sources all her ingredients from local supermarkets since the only food wholesalers in town closed up shop. She manages all aspects of this small venture all by herself and even delivers the goods to the hotel.

The only thing holding Ruth back is her aging body. She gets so frustrated because it is letting her down. There are so many things she would love to still be able to do like travel. In her lifetime she has been on numerous overseas trips and has even been to China!

I’ll never forget the day she was telling me about a book from the library that she was reading. It was all about the canal boats in Britain.

“You know Marica, if I was allowed to get on that plane and travel I’d be off because I would love to try living in one of those canal boats,” said Ruth.

I looked at her and realised she was serious. If she could have she would have acted on this desire and none of us would have been able to stop her. I have seen her in action battling with the local council over a water problem on her property. She won’t give up even though they keep trying to ignore her and do nothing about the problem.

This is the passion by which she attacks everything in life.

Ruth Gedye is no ordinary nonagenarian. She is very definitely extraordinary. She is loved and admired by many for her get up and go attitude to life. We need more people around like her.

Happy Birthday mum – you are a rare gem. I hope I am this feisty when I am your age.

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