Turning 108 just another birthday for Rosalie Wolpe
For her it is no big deal, though. “I’m just a year older,” says the woman who was born during the reign of Edward VII, a year before the Union of South Africa came into being.
When the SA Jewish Report interviewed Rosalie on her 104th birthday, she said that she had always been healthy, had never had an operation or even been in hospital. This is still the case.
“Her only ailment is tiredness,” comments her 73-year-old son David, who planned a family tea for the occasion, as he does annually. Is he still scared of his mom?
“Ooh, she’s vicious!” he jokes, before adding that he still relies on her for advice and visits every other day. “David’s very good,” Rosalie comments.
Her daughter, Janet Dickman, lives in Australia. Rosalie has five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
David chuckles as he remembers that a few years ago, when people used to comment on how well and healthy Rosalie looked, she would take something from the Pick n Pay shelves and say very laconically: “No, I’ve passed my sell-by-date.”
Rosalie’s only concession to old age is her walker, but she doesn’t need any care and lives in her own room at the home.
She moved to Highlands House in Cape Town seven years ago from another retirement home. She was born in Johannesburg, but came to this city as a child and has spent all her life here.
There is a genetic component to her longevity – her grandmother lived to the age of 99 and that was before the era of antibiotics. Her female cousins all lived to their mid-90s.
What is her recipe for good health? “I never had a car,” she states. “I used to walk a lot.” In addition, she never smoked and tried to eat healthily.
Rosalie remembers assisting her mother who ran the Café de Luxe, a big tearoom next to His Majesty’s Theatre in Muizenberg, in the 1920s. “I used to help her put the cakes on the plates,” she recalls of events of nearly a century ago.
Those were the days when lunch was two shillings and sixpence and tea was four-pence. “Scones and cream were four-pence,” adds David.
In the 1930s her mom had a boarding house – Chambers de Luxe, now The Tudor Inn – in Greenmarket Square in the city. The 40 rooms were often occupied by parliamentarians during their six-month sojourn in the city for parliamentary sittings and they “often didn’t pay”, says David. “Nothing’s changed!”
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Rosalie ran her own grocery business, Belvedere Stores, in Claremont, before the advent of Pick n Pay. “She had two African men who delivered your groceries on bicycles; customers could phone through their orders,” David relates.
“Half a loaf of bread!” Rosalie exclaims.
A standout memory for David from his childhood is that, because his mom worked, she would organise someone to take him to the beach or the museum during the school holidays. “She was a very dedicated parent but very worried that she had to work,” he remembers.
“Work wasn’t simply five and a half days a week, it was also clerical work at night, balancing the books.”
Referring to the fact that his mom never drove a car, he recalls: “She would often not ask for a lift on a boiling hot Cape summer’s day, she’d walk a couple of kilometres. She didn’t want to trouble people – she’s always been very independent and self-denying.”
Rosalie occupies some of her time these days playing bingo and she still reads large print books, with murder mysteries being her preferred genre.
Jenni Burnett, chairman of the residents’ committee at Highlands House, is full of praise for Rosalie. “I’ve never heard a cross word or her being irritable – she’s always the same, always got a smile, always sitting in this chair.
“She’s just the loveliest person in the home. She’s just great – everybody adores her.
“Another thing – she’s got lovely legs, better than mine! She only wears shoes with heels. She’s always dressed like she’s going to a garden party; she doesn’t wear glasses unless she’s reading.”
Rosalie attended Springfield Convent in Wynberg as a boarder her whole school career. She regards as a highlight of her life a trip to Japan after she closed her business in the late ‘60s.
She pronounces “the view” the best part of Highlands House as she gazes wistfully over the city rooftops towards the harbour in the distance.