I’m sitting in a tiny gingerbread-trim cottage in Whitehorse’s Old Town. There’s lace on the windows, Heidi-style wooden chairs and strong coffee on the stove. Cedar lines the sunlit breakfast nook.
A sign on the door reads, “I don’t repeat gossip, so listen carefully.”
Aggie Fender passes me the cream. She then urges me to eat freely from the bowl of chocolate-covered blueberries as I listen to tidbits of her life.
“I came from Austria in 1975 from this village,” she says, pointing to a 1377 sketch of Solden, a community nestled in the Tyrolean Alps. The jagged peaks behind the family home reach 3,000 metres.
“I took care of brats in New York at first. Then I worked as a camp cook in Faro, Keno City and on the North Canol Road,” says Aggie. “Wherever I’ve lived, I like sitting on my porch and looking at the moon.”
At 73, she still enjoys bracing health and, as I’m about to learn, bracing world views.
It’s approaching the magic hour for seniors – 4 p.m. – so we head out to make Aggie’s daily rounds. That’s when the first seniors show up at the Yukon News and the Whitehorse Star to get a free newspaper. Aggie makes the daily march with spine straight and eyes dead ahead. Today I trot alongside.
She sees an acquaintance ahead and asks me if I know them. I don’t.
“You haven’t missed much,” comes her abrupt retort.
Aggie tells it like it is, even if you don’t want to know how it is.
We soon hear the roar of Second Avenue traffic in our ears. She glares at the motorists.
“What is it with these people? Do they think it’s a runway?” she asks.
Once safely inside the Whitehorse Star building, I discover a subculture klatch of seniors. They’re squeezed in, chatting to Rhonda the receptionist and sharing news that doesn’t make it to print.
A man is reciting a love poem to Aggie. Apparently it began earlier that morning at the laundromat. She scowls at him and pulls open the door to the blowing dust. We venture back to the quiet of Old Town.
Here our pace slows as we pass an old army Quonset hut from the 1940s. It’s like a giant tin igloo. Members of the U.S. Army lived in Old Town in the 1940s and ‘50s and left behind these huts that once were their barracks. Some became homes. Now the few remaining ones are sheds.
In another yard scabs of ice and melting snow reveal our Old Town shoulda, woulda, coulda, but didn’t. Shoulda rolled up the hose before winter, woulda picked up the doggie poop, coulda made it to the compost bin but the soggy coffee filters gave out en route.
Aggie points out one of the stucco houses owned by the late notorious Velma. Velma owned three nice homes in Old Town, filled them with newspapers and any free junk she could grab, and let them freeze solid. I knew Velma. She implied she was poverty ridden so everyone gave her free food. She died a few years ago and the clean-up is still in progress.
“Were you friends with Velma?” I venture.
“I was. Until I realized she was nuts.”
We stop to marvel at a gigantic new home under construction. I look with longing at the energy-efficient windows. Within a stone’s throw is a former stoner
house – druggies used to come and go there.
And now the boast of Old Town: a tall old house with an unusual hue of greenish yellow stain on the wood, a sunny porch and sawdust galore alongside the road where several cords of wood are cut throughout the winter.
“The Queen’s house,” Aggie pronounces. The monarch slept here on her 1959 tour.
“Yes,” I nod. “The Queen slept there, but she didn’t own it. And you know it sure wasn’t in our neighbourhood back then.”
Suddenly, we hear someone calling Aggie’s name. A woman is standing at a gloriously-yellow picket fence adorned with plastic tulips. A menagerie of ceramic elves and animals line the house.
“Oh, hi.” Aggie waves and joins her friend.
It’s a daycare. Kids are playing in the yard and Aggie knows their names. I’m surprised at her affection.
“I thought you said kids are brats. Do you like kids?”
“Sure. You can’t blame kids – it’s the parents that spoil them.”
Later I discover Aggie gives her clothes to troubled teens at Angel’s Nest. At Easter she gave them a ham and potatoes.
“I like those kids,” she says with a shrug. “They go to school then they come home back to Angel’s Nest. You know in this world we’re so busy, but we’ve got to think of the kids.”
This is the third of a four-part series on Whitehorse’s Old Town by resident and writer Roxanne Livingstone.