For 60 years, Dorrie Aber has kept a little piece of history folded up in her linen drawer. Packed neatly in a thin piece of tissue paper, she recently opened up the delicate treasure to show me what was inside. At first glance, it just looked like a cotton handkerchief. But then Dorrie’s fingers moved to unveil a bright red cross stitched on the middle of the front hem. This is the hat Dorrie was given when she started volunteering with the Red Cross, and Sunnybrook’s Veteran’s Hospital, back in the 1940’s. As she draped it over her hair, kerchief style, for old times sake, her 103-year-old eyes lit up as if it had all happened yesterday.
As with all tokens of nostalgia, they are kept as reminders of special people or places. Dorrie’s hat is no different. As she tucked the cotton behind her nape, she talked about volunteering in the kitchen and making bacon and eggs for the vets. Her religion forbids pork, but she sure loved the smell! And many of the friendships she made here have turned out to be life long.
Dorrie now lives in the U.S., but she visited Sunnybrook just last week to tour the Veteran’s Centre, as well as areas of the hospital that hadn’t even been built when she started volunteering here. She was amazed at how much things had changed, with all those wide-open fields now home to one of the country’s top medical facilities.
Dorrie was also here to give her hat back to Sunnybrook. A donation of sorts, but also a gesture of coming full circle. Dorrie still volunteers at a hospital near her Florida residence, and despite her life long dedication to giving back, still insists that she’s received far more.
As Dorrie took the hat off her head for the last time, this centenarian hoped it would be a symbol for the future. “I’m hoping there will never be another war,” she told me. Then, with her daughter on one arm and granddaughter on the other, she headed home to see her great grandchildren. I couldn’t help but feel inspired, not only to live to see 100, but to spend more than half that time helping others.
Dorrie’s hat will be on display outside Sunnybrook’s Harlequin’s cafeteria (in E-Wing) until the fall.