The Golden Years – Elsie Rodman

Long lives well lived, a wealth of wisdom accumulated over the years…There is much we can learn from our elders and so many stories waiting to be heard. Mirror journalist Wendy Williamson meets Elsie Rodman.

Feisty, funny and full of joie de vivre, Elsie is determined to make 100. A hale and hearty 91-year-old, who amazingly, despite being a keen reader, has no need for reading glasses since she had her cataracts removed, she is showing every sign of achieving her ambition.

Elsie has lived at Banksia Lodge for two years “or two years three months, to be exact,” says this delightful lady, who is very much on the ball. She enjoyed a few brief stays at Banksia on respite, while she was living with her daughter at Agnes, and was happy to move in when the opportunity arose.

“I love every bit of life here,” she says. “Except perhaps the food now and again. It all comes from Toora; it was better – though more expensive – when the hospital provided it.”

She loves the social aspect of life at Banksia Lodge. “You can join in or not as you like.” Elsie, of course, is a joiner, and she loves the bingo – The Mirror had to reschedule our interview so Elsie did not miss her bingo!

“And it’s just as well I played this morning. I won three games!” says Elsie, proudly showing her prizes of a Freddo frog and sweets.

Elsie has only lived in South Gippsland for a few years. She has spent most of her life in and around Melbourne. She was born in October 1920 in a little private hospital in Kew.

“I was named Elsie Edith Daisy – Elsie after my mother and Edith Daisy after my aunts.  It was very confusing having the same name as my mother. I became “Little Else” or “Young Else” which was all very fine when I was young, but I objected when I was older. I remember my Uncle Fred calling me “Little Else” when I was grown up with children of my own – I told him how ridiculous it was!”

Elsie’s age of 91 seems all the more remarkable when she describes her childhood, which was plagued by ill health.

“I was a healthy baby, but when I was 18 months old Mum took me to visit a friend and we ate fish. I got food poisoning and this developed into pneumonia. This was before antibiotics, of course, and for a while it was touch and go whether I would survive. We were living in Kew then. Dad was a conductor on the trams, based at Kew depot. The doctor suggested country area would be good for me, so Mum and I went to live on a quarter acre at Belgrave. Dad would visit us.”

While working on the trams, Elsie’s father hurt his leg badly in a serious accident and the doctor recommended seawater, so the family moved to Chelsea for a while. Later there was still another move – to Mt Evelyn. There Elsie spent her teen years, but missed a lot of school, because she wasn’t allowed to attend if it was raining.

“I remember one day I was walking home and it started raining and my doctor pulled up alongside me in his car and said ‘What are you doing out in the rain?!’ – and gave me a lift home. So it wasn’t all bad…Then when I was 14 I got sick and the doctor said I should leave school – so I did.”

There was only one year that she didn’t miss a day of school, and that was because of a teacher whom she idolised, Mr Turner.

“Mostly, I hated school, so I was glad to leave. But it was strange that I was always regarded as sickly and wasn’t allowed to do PE at school. Living at Mt Evelyn I was expected to collect and chop wood – hardly the sort of thing you’d expect someone who wasn’t well to do! I think I was mollycoddled, but I can’t blame them, I guess. Mum lost her first baby, who succumbed to pneumonia at ten days, and she nearly lost me so often.”

For a few years after she left school Elsie did most of the housework while her mother supervised her younger sister Violet (‘Viva’) as she studied with the School of the Air. Then she got a job in a laundry at Deepdene, at first sorting and then pressing clothes, using a big iron run by gas “with a flame that had a habit of going out.” She then went to work in the city for an underpresser, pressing seams, pleats, darts, etc.

Elsie’s mother had a friend who was a dressmaker and she introduced Elsie to the man who was to become her husband, Albert Edward Rodman – ‘Douby’ to some, but ‘Alby’ to her. He was in an angling club.

“She had me wedded and bedded before we’d even met!” laughs Elsie.

Alby operated the presser in a brickyard. He was 18 years older than Elsie, being over 40 to her 23 when they married. These were the war years. “Alby had tried to join up when the war started. He was fit but considered too old for active service, so he got to work in supplies – and was sent to Darwin. What with his sister and his father dying and the interference from the army, we were engaged for two and a half years! We got married when Alby was on leave in 1943.”

In marrying, Elsie insists she was following her doctor’s advice. “The doctor ordered me to get married and have a baby for the sake of my health – to clean me out!”

Elsie had no problem getting pregnant, but all her babies were born premature, with some tragic results. Her first born, William, was 13 weeks early and survived only 48 hours. Second son, Teddy, was also premature, and he was born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain). “Everybody loved Teddy. He would sit by the gate and everyone would chat to him as they went by.” He required a lot of care – he couldn’t be bathed but had to be oiled instead – and a healthy daughter, Barbara, had meantime been added to the family, so Elsie’s mother helped her with Barbara.

“When Teddy died – just before his third birthday – I said “We’ve got to have another child; an only child’s a lonely child’ – and we had Lynette. Then, several years later, you could say ‘I fell in the fat and came out greasy’ – that’s one old saying – for I had twins, only I didn’t know I was having twins. I gave birth to Karen and then the doctor said ‘I’ve got news for you!’ I said, ‘Don’t say there’s another one!’ Then Faye was born.”

Now Elsie has “four daughters, three sons-in-law, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and I get on well with all the family.”

In Melbourne she lived in Deepdene and then Richmond, but about five years ago Elsie came to live with Lynette in Barry Beach Road. Now she is happily ensconced in Banksia Lodge. She was lucky enough to score one of the biggest rooms in the facility, which she has proudly decorated with her collection of ceramics which she herself painted, and photographs of her family. As well as reading, bingo, bowls and hoy, she enjoys the regular outings and is now looking forward to this year’s Christmas party, only a few weeks away.

“Last year we had a sailor theme. This year it’s a wedding theme, with boys dressed as girls and vice versa. We’ll be singing ‘Chapel of Love, ‘I’m getting married in the morning’ and ‘You are my sunshine.’”

“Not everyone likes to get involved in the activities at Banksia, but I do. We have fun! I thoroughly enjoy myself,” says Elsie, looking every inch like she will indeed achieve her ambition of a 100thbirthday.