Pictou County is a long way from Stawiski, Poland, where Mike Chizda grew up – but at 100 years old, this man has seen it all.
Sitting in a big reclining chair in his daughter’s living room, Chizda is cozied up in comfy pajama pants and a warm sweater.
Chizda was one of six children: with three brothers, and two sisters. Growing up he attended Hebrew and Polish school, he was a good student for the most part he thinks.
“I don’t know what other people would say,” jokes Chizda. His daughter, Enda Chizda, recalls stories he would tell about heading out to restaurants with buddies on days he was supposed to be fasting; only to be caught by his mother. Like any mother would, she used to insist he come home and she would cook him good food if he were going to eat anyhow. He would go to the restaurants anyway; after all, they had bacon.
Chizda did not have the best of teenage years, however. Because he is Jewish, Chizda spent his teen years in hiding from the Nazis. He is very careful to distinguish them as Nazis, rather than Germans though.
“I was in the bushes,” said Chizda. He found himself buried by bushes most days to stay hidden away, although he did have some close calls.
“When I came out to go in the bushes and I saw the boys over there and I was afraid they would see me,” said Chizda, “so I spent the day in a tree.” When he was hiding, Chizda was able to find help at a nearby shop. A lady would let him into a shop when no one was around so he could have something to eat.
“She said ‘you can come in now, have some supper,’” said Chizda who was extremely grateful for the help.
“I knew I could die every day.”
When the Second World War was over, Chizda was the only remaining member of his immediate family.
“By the end, in later years, I was OK,” said Chizda about his outlook on life. “I bought a home for myself; I was OK.”
Chizda found himself in Germany after the war had ended, hitching a ride there with some people.
“Will you take me there? I’ve got a bunch of vodka,” said Chizda. They said yes, and he was off to Berlin to seek help. Once in Berlin there were many Jewish people immigrating to other countries. There Chizda was able to find people offering work overseas.
“When I went over there they told me that they got a letter from a tailor factory and they were looking for workers; so I went,” said Chizda. He originally had asked to be placed in the United States but was given the choice of Canada or Australia. He chose Canada.
“Later a boat came and they said they were going to Canada and the United States, so I got on,” said Chizda.
Arriving in Halifax, Chizda took the train to Winnipeg where he worked in a tailor shop.
“When I came to Canada I worked about five or six years in a (tailor) shop, then I worked in a grocery store.” Said Chizda. After some time in Canada, he bought a hotel.
Later, in 1980, Chizda sold his hotel and bought a condo in Hawaii. Each year since, he travelled to his condo for a winter vacation. He sold his condo this year, however, as the long trip to and from was getting to be hard on the century-old man.
“She talked me into it,” said Chizda, pointing at his daughter. Hawaii will not be the last trip that he makes though; He and his daughter are planning on spending some time in Cuba next year; Chizda will be 101.
After living in Pictou County for two years now he is enjoying it.
“I love it,” he said, “I’ve got everything.”
Chizda is not only a world traveller at his age, but a frequent swimmer as well. He can be found at the YMCA pool each Tuesday and Friday.
“I get to swim and the hot tub,” said Chizda, “I used to swim every day.” He would likely still swim every day if he had a way there, but for now he enjoys his twice-weekly swim with a good soak in the hot tub. Chizda even spent his 100th birthday this year at the YMCA, going for a swim, excitedly telling people that he is now 100.
Other than swimming each week, Chizda is kept company by the dog, and enjoys his nightly happy hour where he drinks one – and only one – vodka tonic, while enjoying cheese and crackers.
When asked if he had any advice for younger people since he has lived to 100, Chizda began with:
“Well my mother used to pray for me.”
Other than this he recommends, “Not to worry, don’t smoke, and have a little drink for appetite.”