Ailsa's heyday revisited

Ailsa Carpenter, 100, stands outside Saint Andrews Church, Blenheim. Ailsa grew up in Blenheim and has come back for a holiday.
Ailsa Carpenter, 100, stands outside Saint Andrews Church, Blenheim. Ailsa grew up in Blenheim and has come back for a holiday.

Growing old is relative and even turning 100 is no big deal in the 21st century.

Former Blenheim resident Ailsa Carpenter passed the century mark earlier this year, prompting son Keith to coax her into the Marlborough Express office during a short holiday stopover in Marlborough last week. Ailsa agreed but clearly thought he was making too much of a fuss.

"Becoming 100 today is not a novelty," she says. "There's quite a few people who are 100 - and lots [older]. In Australia we have them at 110."

Ailsa has lived in Australia for the past 30 years, moving there four years after Keith had made Sydney his base. He persuaded his mother to join him across the Tasman and acknowledges it was a major shift for a 70-year-old widow of her generation. "[But] she settled beautifully . . . she still had her garden and hedges to cut . . . it was a huge move for a woman who hadn't moved all her life, basically."

Very little, anyway. Ailsa grew up in Wellington and worked for a printing firm before meeting Keith's father, David Carpenter. The couple were married in 1942 and shifted to Blenheim where David already owned a house on Middle Renwick Rd.

In 2012, motels expand across the street's former residential area. Ailsa says the Carpenters' old house was relocated to the Wairau Valley to a new family's home.

Few housewives in mid-1900s New Zealand had paid employment and Ailsa kept herself busy looking after Keith and younger daughter Janice, gardening, sewing, knitting, cooking and making jams and pickles with newly-harvested fruit and vegetables.

There were many orchards in Marlborough where fruit could be purchased at harvest time, Ailsa remembers.

"We used to go out to Rapaura and get fruit for preserving . . . and there was a berry farm on Old Renwick Rd where I would pick raspberries and logan berries for preserving.

"It's all grapes now."

Vineyards stretching across the landscape are attractive, she adds, especially at certain times of the year when they look their best.

"And the aisles between them are very well tended," she notes. "But I like to see a few cows and sheep . . . you have to go a long way now to see any farms."

Ailsa was one of the parishioners at St Andrew's Church in Blenheim and regularly worked at its annual fundraising fete. She was on the mothers' committee of Girls' Brigade, belonged to the women's division of the Returned Services Association and, with David, was a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge. In the years before the government started subsidising medical prescriptions and people's visits to their doctors, the lodge provided health benefits to members and ran social events for their families.

"We used to have [family] picnics at Onamalutu and fishing parties at Rarangi - the men would go out and come back and cook the fish at midday."

Few of the people she shared those outings with are still in Blenheim, or even still alive, Ailsa notes. Her own activities are slowing down, too.

"But my health is good; my heart is good, otherwise I would never have come on holiday."

It is easy to relax at the retirement village in Ashfield, Sydney, where other people keep the lawns mown, the gardens tended and the major housekeeping done. Ailsa dislikes being idle, though, and regularly knits 25 centimetre-square peggy squares for the not-for-profit organisation, Wrap with Love.

The squares are stitched together to make blankets for people in devastated countries overseas or communities that have experienced natural disasters, she says. "If you are looking after someone you are looking after yourself at the same time.

"[By] knitting I'm making something for someone, keeping my fingers working and my brain working."

The Marlborough Express