My step-great grandmother, Alice Osmachenko, will be celebrating her 101st birthday on November 24, cheering for her favourite team in the Canadian Football League’s season finale game.
The fact that her team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, is playing against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in her own province is an added bonus. But the real icing on the birthday cake is that the Grey Cup is also celebrating its 101st birthday on the exact same day she is.
“Woohoo!” she exclaimed excitedly two days before the game. “I bet they win!”
Vickie Oomen, the activity director of Eatonia Oasis Living, where Alice is a resident, hopes they win as well. Excited about going to the game herself, it was she who noticed that Alice’s birthday celebration would, coincidentally, fall on the same day.
Wanting to send a picture of her to the local newspaper, the staff at the personal care home hung up a Roughriders banner behind Alice, dressed her up in one of the team’s green jerseys along with a giant fingered fan glove, and gave her a football to hold.
“You’re making me look like a fool,” Alice griped. “But I love it!”
The spunky centenarian has been a long-time Roughriders fan, and has lived most of her life in the team’s province of Saskatchewan.
She wasn’t born there, though. Her first two weeks were spent in pre-revolution Russia, until her family fled to Canada for the government offering of uncultivated farmland to immigrants. Her parents raised her and her six siblings in a mud house in Biggar, Saskatchewan, where they worked the land for grain.
“We were so poor we didn’t have a broom,” she said. “My mom made one out of twigs and we’d sprinkle water over the floors and use that.”
Full of stories and happy to share with anyone interested in hearing them, Alice talked about the scarce food supply during the Great Depression, and how she and her brothers and sisters would hunt for birds. “Don’t ever try the pigeon,” she advised. ”Yuck.”
The administrator of the home, Cora Knuttila, enjoys her stories as well. “Alice is very outgoing and quite a character,” she said. “It should be a fun day around here on Sunday.”
Born Alexandria Evanoff, Alice is more like a mother than a grandmother to my stepmom, Kym White. “My mother abandoned me and my three siblings when I was four,” she said. “Gramma stopped her life to come out to Edmonton and raise us while our dad worked in the oil field.”
Kym’s father, Donald was Alice’s only child. He died 31 years ago, the day after his 46th birthday. It was a heartbreaking loss for his children and his new wife who was expecting his 6th child, and it completely devastated Alice.
“Parents should never outlive their kids,” Kym said. “She’s gone through so much in her 101 years, but losing him was the greatest tragedy of her life. She still misses him every day.”
Determined to be there for her family, Kym said her grandmother put everyone else’s needs ahead of her own, and part of that was teaching them that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, to love and live life to the fullest, and to be honest.
Described by the staff at her home as “popular, funny and full of stories,” Alice was quick to add “but not full of lies!”
She’s clearly not lying when she says she’s looking forward to the Grey Cup and hoping for a big victory for her team. She’s also tickled over the media attention she’s received in recent days.
“I’m getting famous,” she said with a laugh.
Whatever the outcome of the game, Alice Osmachenko will remain a fan of the Roughriders, and an even bigger fan of love and life.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com