Taking stock of a century 

Exploration has been a defining trait of Squamish’s Margaret Young

click to enlarge An Existential Travelogue Having recently turned 100, Margaret Young takes a look at her life of family, adventure and the pursuit of knowledge.
  • An Existential Travelogue Having recently turned 100, Margaret Young takes a look at her life of family, adventure and the pursuit of knowledge.

Jack Young left a smile. A bunch of them, actually — each one looking both distinguished and earthy, one lip spread across the intellect, the other across the heart. Talk to Margaret Young for just half an hour, and her love for that smile shines about as bright as the teeth that make it.

“He was a very clever man,” she says. “We met over ping-pong. He hadn’t taken me out for more than a week before he wanted to marry me. And he never changed his mind. He was the most honest, straightforward person.”

Margaret Young turned 100 recently. In a room up on Hilltop House in Valleycliffe, she sits with a blue sweater and bows on her shoes, with her hands folded and her hair white and wispy. And she’s surrounded by the trophies of a life spent loving, and a life spent loved. Birthday cards literally festoon her walls, too many to count, and she’s still got a bounty stashed in a bag somewhere, the better to read them. Though her blue eyes are vibrant, they’re just a little bit milky, her pupils, tiny in that mist, a sign of her failing eyesight.

“If I had my eyesight, which is not good, I would love reading and writing,” she says. “That’s what I love.”

Understandable, given her tenure as a language teacher for a Vancouver high school. Though the eyes are failing, Young perseveres with the help of technology, and more so with the kind of commitment only born from love: Her son-in-law, Rick Price, reads for her when he visits. At the moment, they’re exploring a book about George Vancouver.

Young is no stranger to exploration. It’s been one of the defining characteristics of her long life. In 1908, Young was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was the sixth of seven children. Before long, she journeyed across the pond, landing in Canada and taking the railway to Vancouver, where she stayed for most of her life. But that was a home base. Her life promised much exploration. She had only to meet Jack to get the journey fully started. See, the two of them were teachers, and they met at Kitsalano High School.

He was a man of science, she a woman of language. Opposites most certainly attract — sometimes over ping-pong. Call it a back and forth. And yet, their marriage saw Young bow out of teaching, as that was the legal go of the times.

Just the same, teaching never left the bloodline. From Jack and Margaret came three children. From those children came eight more. And from those eight came yet another six. Teaching has not exactly been an exotic pursuit in the lineage. Her daughter, Diddi, the one married to Rick Price, was a teacher. Price himself is a school board trustee. In fact, all of her children became teachers, and, through their pursuits, Young was again given the opportunity to show her knack for hospitality. Consider the annual class of 18 she would cook for at the cottage she and Jack built on the Canadian side of Boundary Bay. That crew made up the biology class for her son.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for those youngsters,” she says. “They had never been to the seashore to examine what grows there. But my son would eat or try anything that grows in the sea.”

That, for all intents and purposes, is exploration of the soul, of generations, people and knowledge. It’s not necessarily tied up in the business of movement, though it certainly can be. Young is fortunate enough to have experienced both, together and separately.

Her physical wanderings with Jack began just hours after the wedding. They climbed ship and struck out to Alaska. Together, they found their way back and forth across Canada, into the U.S. and over to Australia. They were never at a loss for new friends, never at a loss for people to cook for, to offer invitations, to trust over the years, to know for a lifetime.

You could look at Margaret Young and ask her where she was when JFK was shot. You could ask her about both World War I and II. You could ask her about the dust bowl, about waves of immigration and any other historical event most people use to anchor themselves in time. But if you were to ask her for a summary, for some kind of lesson, it would be the product of a different sphere. Those things are details in the world at large. As important as they are, at the end of the day, sitting in an armchair in a room at the end of a hall in Hilltop House, those things are incidental.

What counts is this: “For me,” says Margaret Young, “I had a wonderful husband and a very loving family. And I couldn’t ask for more.”

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