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A century seen through Alma’s eyes

Alma Smith, who turned 100 on November 4, with her card signed by HRH Queen Elizabeth II. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

Sports, dancing and travel a hallmark
Alma Smith celebrated her 100th birthday last week. ARTHUR HAWKES spent an afternoon chatting to the Masterton centenarian and heard about her fascinating life growing up in rural Wairarapa.

Masterton resident Alma Smith, nee Clarke, was born in Greytown, shortly after World War I. As a girl she was thrown straight into the Great Depression, and then experienced the chaos of World War II. More recently, she has seen through the covid-19 lockdown and global coronavirus pandemic.

Last Wednesday, on November 4, she celebrated her 100th year, a day before the birthday of her late husband Alan. The family held a party at Dish Cafe for the centenarian last weekend, which was attended by a host of old Masterton families and close friends.

Looking back on her century in Wairarapa, Alma said she remembered the “hard work” of farm life in the 1920s and 1930s, and the “terrible job of pulling turnips and cutting thistles”.

As a girl, riding in the family’s Ford Model A car to town was a rare treat she thoroughly enjoyed. But there were some jobs where they couldn’t use the novelty of motor power. Six milk cans a day were transported from the farm by a cart, drawn by their two horses, down to the Lower Valley Dairy Factory at Tuhitarata.

In between intensive work on the farm, Alma attended dances regularly, many of which held at the Pirinoa and Kahutara halls.

At age 20, in 1941, she became a postal worker, marrying Alan in 1945 as the war still raged in the European and the Pacific theatres.

At first, Alma and Alan flatted on Lincoln St in Masterton, later building their own home in 1948. She recalled that the section cost just £48, with the house costing a further £1750 to build.

Alma and her daughter Shirley Slykerman showed off the host of cards she’d received on the big day – from Dame Patsy Reddy, The Queen, the McAnulty family, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, among many, many others.

“I can’t believe I’m 100. I just can’t believe it – I don’t feel it,” said Alma, who still gardens on her property in Lansdowne. Gardening was a skill she learned from her mother, who was a very keen gardener, back on the farm in Greytown when she was a girl.

A few decades ago, Alma had hobbies, tennis, where she’d play on Masterton’s grass courts regularly. Sports and dancing have clearly worked their magic on Alma, as she is still quite mobile, now using a walker to get around.

Alma said she had always had an interest in sport, and in lieu of playing it, she now watches it on her television.

“I like my sport, and I’ve always followed it. I watch any sport really.”

Looking back on her life, she said she hadn’t been too aware of getting older, managing to maintain a rich life well into her older age.

“The years crept up on me very gradually, I still don’t believe it, it’s quite surreal.”

Slykerman sets up video calls for Alma to speak with her family – she has two children, five grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren, with a 12th great-grandchild on the way.

“We also do Zoom meetings with all the grandchildren in Australia,” Slykerman said.

While Alma now stays in Masterton, she’s travelled all over the globe during her life.

“I went over to Australia a fair bit – Sydney, Brisbane – I’ve been to America, I’ve been to the islands… I’ve got around a bit, and I’ve seen a lot!” she said.

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