Never a dull moment with the Ambroises

Whenever you phone Al and Barbara Ambroise, be prepared to get the machine. Both retired years ago, but only from work.

Barbara is often out for Tai Chi, Al for carpet bowling, and the two long-time volunteers are frequently found on the business side of a crafts or a bake-sale table.

If it’s summer, drop the phone and send a postcard – the Ambroises will be away again, leading 30 fellow seniors on a trip to the Thousand Islands.

“I’m not one to sit around,” says Al, who recently won a 10-year pin at Ontario’s Volunteer Service Awards for his work with Neighbourhood Link. A month before, he and Barbara were touring Bermuda – her gift for his 80th birthday

“At 80, what do you need?” he said, smiling. “I don’t need another suit.”

Al and Barbara Ambroise are busier than ever since retiring years ago. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Al and Barbara Ambroise are busier than ever since retiring years ago.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Barbara said for years the two of them would cook and serve meals for the East Toronto Seniors, complete with hand-crafted menus. They were made for it – Barbara worked in a downtown restaurant, and Al was an Air Force cook for 13 years.

“It’s hard to drop from cooking for two or three hundred to just two people,” said Barbara, laughing.

“When we have a roast dinner, there’s like a basin full of gravy.”

Twenty years ago, when Al was newly retired, it was an ad for carpet bowling with the East Toronto Seniors that eventually got both of them involved.

“I know people who say, ‘I’m going to do things when I’m not busy,’ but they don’t join a club,” said Barbara.

“I think, if people were honest, a lot would say they are a bit tentative about joining a new group.”

That was true for Barbara’s sister in England, who joined a local seniors’ group just two years ago.

“The first day she walked in, they were so welcoming,” she said.

Later, when Barbara and Al flew to England to see her, the club invited all three to stop by. They wound up going on a canal boat, and there is a photo of Al sporting a captain’s hat onboard with a table of tea and crumpets beside him as proof.

“It’s nice to belong,” said Al, speaking of seniors’ clubs.

Another one of the regulars at East Toronto Seniors lunches is Ella Chandler, 105, who greets Al with lines like, “Oh, Barbara’s here – better behave myself!”

The same goes for the Thousand Islands trip. For the five or six years that Al and Barbara have arranged it, people have come back year after year, checking in with Gananoque resort owners and tour organizers Jean and Michelle, enjoying an islands cruise, visiting Kingston’s open-air market, and lifting Royal Albert cups at a high tea in Brockville, not to mention the euchre championship and the 1000 Islands Casino.

“It’s like going back to your family again,” said Barbara.

Al usually sends out the first reminder in winter, always by letter. There are no computers or cell phones in their home.

“You know, if we were with the pioneers in a covered wagon, we’d do all right,” said Barbara.

If Al and Barbara are stuck on letters, they have a good reason. Above the mantle in their living room is their wedding photo, taken 38 years ago.

“I knew her for five days,” said Al, explaining that they met while he was on a short visit to Norfolk, England.

“I came back, and we wrote letters for about five and a half months.”

Like couples who meet online today, in their letters Al and Barbara sorted a lot of questions early – from kids to careers.

“The minister didn’t want to marry us because we didn’t know each other that long,” said Al. “Well, their marriage went kaput and ours is still going strong.”

“We’ve never had a ring-ding, knock-out fight,” said Barbara.

“We do disagree about things,” she added.

“And then I tell him where he’s wrong, and he says, ‘Yes, Barbara!’”

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