HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Gerda Reid will celebrate her 100th birthday at Caroona Yamba Hostel tomorrow. Photo: Adam Hourigan
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Gerda Reid will celebrate her 100th birthday at Caroona Yamba Hostel tomorrow. Photo: Adam Hourigan

Gerda to mark milestone

IF you ever pondered the formula for a happy, long life, look no further than 99-year-old Gerda Reid.

The dignified lady with a wry sense of humour has both quality and quantity sewn up when it comes to growing older.

Gerda will mark her 100th birthday tomorrow and while her persona belies that number, making a century is something even she has trouble coming to grips with.

"I just can't believe it. I've been waking up every morning and thinking that," she said.

Gerda was born on February 10, 1915 in New Zealand "during World War One" and moved to Australia when she was five years old.

"My mum said she didn't want to stay and populate New Zealand so she came over here," she said.

That was also about the time Gerda's father, a footballer whose games she remembers attending as a young child, left the family.

"I remember going to those games but after he left I never laid eyes on him again," she said.

Her mother was left with four young children to raise on her own and Gerda was forced to grow up quickly.

"I became a mother at five really. I started looking after my younger brother Gordon Maxwell, walking, feeding him and changing his nappy," she said.

That early dose of responsibility laid the foundations for Gerda's stoicism and the fuss-free approach to life that she still maintains today.

Her own adult life tested those strengths but never managed to break the positive attitude and independence she continues to display.

"I still do my own laundry and put it away," she said.

While Gerda can't recall a perfect timeline as such, certain details do remain front of mind.

"I worked in a milkbar in Campsie when milkshakes were fourpence and I was a secretary for a time," she said.

She also mentioned the Saturday night dances in Sydney that she used to frequent where a sociable young lady would indulge in the waltz and two-step.

"I loved those dances where you got to change partners. It was the only place to meet people in those days," she said.

"I met a Mr Steele there. Well there was no way I was going to marry him with a name like Gerda so I introduced him to my sister Iris and she ended up marrying him," she said.

Gerda did eventually meet someone, marrying Walter William Henry Balfour.

Their union lasted only four years but during that time she gave birth to daughter Elizabeth and son Dennis.

When the relationship ended, Gerda's early experiences had taught her what was required to get on with the job as a single parent.

"It's hard work being a mother. I remember getting very tired, even pushing prams up and down the hills was hard going," she said.

In that pram was her son Dennis, who pays his mum a visit whenever he is passing through Yamba in one of his trucks.

Gerda loves getting out and about when she can so on his last visit was only too keen to go for a quick spin after getting up into the cabin on her own.

"Those things are like climbing up a two-storey house," she said.

"I don't know how they see the road from there."

Gerda never married again after Walter, "all the men were going to war and being killed", but said she still had a happy life and enjoyed the many different people who have come into her long life.

Gerda spent 40 years on the Central Coast before moving to Yamba to 'housesit' for her son-in-law at The Links Estate, staying there for eight or nine years before moving into Caroona Hostel in 2011 in her late 90s.

One long-time family friend who knew Gerda's mother and the family for years still visits her on a monthly basis.

"He's half my age but he still comes down from Mullumbimby to visit and take me into town so I can do my banking and things," Gerda said.

"He told my mother he'd look after us all after she was gone. Now there's no-one left except me. He probably didn't think he'd still be running me around all this time but he does it. He's a wonderful man."

Gerda said she also was amazed to meet up with Noel Hobbs, an old friend from her Campsie days, many years later in Yamba.

"We ended as neighbours and now here we are both in Caroona. It's a small world," she said.

Gerda said Yamba was the best place in the world and loved being able to help people around the hostel.

"Everyone always says 'go and ask Gerda' around here," she said.

And as she sat and ate her scones and sipped her tea, with manicured nails and neatly coiffed hair completed as part of a morning ritual she still undertakes herself, she pondered her pending milestone.

"Sometimes you just have to cope with whatever comes your way," she said.

"Take life as it comes and do your best and not look on the sad side, look on the happy.

"I'm really very lucky. I wouldn't change a thing."

And with that, the nonagenarian, who cites "living" as her greatest achievement, popped up out of her chair, grabbed her wheelie walker and paced off on a mission to continue doing just that.

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