Kate Mitchell is telling a joke, of which she has an endless supply, when a huge Blue Clipper butterfly settles on her arm. "Isn't that beautiful," she beams.
Mitchell, 84, and some 20 residents of the Anne Hathaway retirement residence in Stratford, Ontario are at it again: they're gadding about.
Today they're at the Wings of Paradise butterfly conservatory in Cambridge, Ontario. In a couple of days they're off on a river cruise, and the day after that to Castle Kilbride, a mansion in nearby Baden, Ontario.
"When my friends want to come and see me, I tell them I'm booked solid most of the time," Mitchell says with a laugh.
There's a notion that when people move to retirement residences, they stay put. Not true.
In one glorious week in July, we found:
- Bud English, 86, a resident of Quail Creek Retirement Centre, in Renfrew, Ontario on only the second fishing trip of his life. He caught three trout.
- Ruth and Archie McKinnon of Appleby Place in Burlington, Ontario describing how they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on an Alaskan cruise with champagne and a cake. "Come on Archie," Ruth told her husband. "It's our 50th, let's dance."
- Retired teacher Ed McAndrew, 79. He and his wife, Marie, moved to Appleby Place in Burlington, Ontario but continue to winter in Arizona in their RV.
- Bernice Kinnear, 80, of Beechwood Place in Mississauga, Ontario, who told us a long-ago love story about a red canoe.
These joints are jumping. The monthly program at Anne Hathaway resembles a packed cruise ship itinerary, with everything from "Christmas in July" to visiting bands to swimming to a garage sale.
"It's an ideal place for me," Mitchell says. "Lots of people around, and I am amazed how busy we are. I am out all the time. Yesterday," she says with a sigh, "I finally had a free day."
Not everyone is as cheery as Mitchell. Genevieve McLaughlin, 85, says she often misses her home, which was in Hamilton. But on the morning she woke up and realized she was going to see the butterflies, "it just gave me a lift."
Retired railway worker Hugh Smallman, 84, is another recent arrival at Anne Hathaway. "This is an amazing place to see," he says as owl butterflies and zebra longwings flutter by. But most of all he just enjoyed the drive to Cambridge, Ontario.
Imagination is all that limits where residents go. At Amica at Erin Mills, in Mississauga, Ontario the men's club goes golfing once a month in summer. "I look forward to it," says Colin McTavish, 78, who used to work for Toronto Hydro. "It's mainly the companionship because I am not that good a golfer. And we have a beer afterwards."
Last year, for the first time, staff at Quail Creek organized a fishing trip to the Opeongo Mountain trout farm.
"I had never put a line in the water in my life," says Bud English, who gets by with one leg. "I got a fish " the first one I ever pulled out. I didn't know what to do with it!"
At Appleby, too, lots goes on, including overnight stays at the Holiday Inn in Niagara Falls and theatre trips. But no one expected a Caribbean cruise.
"It surprised me!" says Ed McAndrew, a former elementary school teacher.
He and his wife, Marie, had been on more than a dozen cruises in earlier years. Then they were bitten by the RV bug, bought their own recreation vehicle, and lived in it year-round, wintering in Arizona.
Marie was having increasing difficulty walking, and that's when they moved 4 into Appleby. But it still didn't stop them wintering in Arizona (in these circumstances, residents still pay the unit rental but, of course, do not pay for meals).
When Nancy Chobrda, Appleby's enterprising recreation manager, announced a Caribbean cruise, the McAndrews went for it. "We had always gone by ourselves," Ed says. "Now we wanted to be with other people." Flying down to Fort Lauderdale, they were in high spirits. "We're going on vacation!" Ed told Marie.
Jean Little, 81, was on that Holland America Line cruise aboard the Maasdam. "It was top of the line, 100 per cent," she says. "You go when you can. There's going to be a time when you can't go."
A 91-year-old woman was among Appleby residents on another cruise that went to Alaska.
Friends envy Chobrda, figuring she has an easy time going cruising and calling it work. But "it's a big responsibility," Chobrda says. On board, she had to make sure everyone ate the right food and took their medication, and if one of the group had fallen or taken ill, it would have presented a serious challenge.
So are trips and outings worth the bother" Casey Ram, general manager at Amica at Erin Mills, says that for residents, getting out is just as important as those other essentials, proper diet and exercise.
"People need to get out to see other people and see what is still happening out there," he says.Winter limits outings, he says. But his residents go to the mall and the supermarket weekly, to the racetrack, to see the Christmas lights, and have even gone to a hockey game. Many residents, he knows, are still very active, but if they can no longer drive they need opportunities to go places.
For Bernice Kinnear, who moved into the Beechwood Place Retirement Residence two years ago, it's a matter of holding on to the beautiful life she always had at the lake. She has been going to the family compound in Muskoka since the age of two, and sees no reason to stop.
Although she drives, these days her children take her. "I think I enjoy it more than I ever did," she says. "The trees, the lake, being there with the grandchildren. We laugh, we sit on the dock having cocktails before dinner."
And the memories. When she was 16, Kinnear was out paddling her red canvas canoe when a handsome young guy named Sam Kinnear, spotted her. He made it his business to find out who she was. She was married to Sam, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross in the war and went on to become a civil pilot, for 55 years. He died four years ago.
The canoe is still at the cottage. "We take good care of it," Kinnear says.