Aging happily into 2015

Bob and Bev Gill celebrated their birthdays at an Irish pub near their home, having dinner and drinks, a beer for him and a brandy and seven for her.

At 93 and 91 years old, respectively, nothing stops this couple, not the zero degrees it was outside that evening in Minnesota (minus 24 degrees including the wind chill factor), not the holiday crowds and certainly not their ages.

“I don’t feel 93,” Bob tells us that night. “I feel good every day.”

You may recall this chipper couple from when I wrote about Bev and her positive attitude last year. Bob and Bev are my partner Lincoln’s parents with whom we spend Christmas and celebrate their birthdays, which fall on Dec. 24 and 30.

Each visit with them reminds me that how happy we are affects how gracefully we age.

As does finding humor in the inevitable. After passing his driver’s license renewal exam last month, Bob says, “At my age, I don’t know if this is good for four years!”

Fortunately, Bob and Bev’s health is excellent. They live independently in their own beautiful, immaculate home that Bev cleans by herself.

“Don’t worry about washing the linens before you go home, the cleaning lady comes on Thursday,” she tells me with a wink.

Just like waking up

So what’s their secret? For one, exercise. Bev’s morning workout makes me feel like a slug (and I’m not).

One time Lincoln said to me, “Show Mom our power yoga workout.” I got down on the floor and began demonstrating.

Within seconds, Bev got down on the floor on her back, extended her legs overhead and began lowering them from side to side. I know 40-year-olds who won’t try that.

“This is one of the things I do every morning,” she says. “It’s just like waking up.”

She also walks every day, normally outside, up and down their steep driveway. On a particularly cold morning when three inches of snow had fallen along with the temperature, Bev walked around her living room for at least 20 minutes.

Embracing new things is another of their secrets. Bob has mastered their new Keurig coffee maker, his only culinary skill besides making fabulous popcorn. Bev takes joy in saying, “Bob, make us a cup of coffee.”

I just feel so fortunate

Maybe their most important secret is appreciating all the blessings in their lives. One of their grandsons, Kyle Gill, shared the following for a jumbo-sized birthday card the family filled with anecdotes from their children and grandchildren.

“Bev has an amazing spirit of appreciation,” Kyle wrote. “A telling line is that many of her sentences start with, ‘I just feel so fortunate …’”

That’s a refrain we hear almost every day from Bev on a host of topics, while Bob, sitting nearby, smiles in agreement.

But this couple wasn’t born with silver spoons in their mouths. Bev grew up on a dairy farm where she worked the horses and did outside chores with her father. Bob drove a tractor on his grandfather’s farm in the summers.

High school students during the Great Depression in the 1930s, Bob remembers when his school decreed that only students who had tennis shoes could go on the gym floor.

“I tried to buy a pair of tennis shoes and I found one in town for 50 cents, but I couldn’t get 50 cents from my dad to buy those tennis shoes,” he recalls. “There wasn’t any money.”

Bob enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. He served in the Aleutians, Tarawa and other overseas locations as a radioman and gunner in airplanes. After the war, he returned home and began working for a lumberyard, loading lumber on trucks. He worked his way into sales and stayed there for 18 years, until he left to open his own real estate brokerage and homebuilding business.

I can only imagine the challenges that must have been inherent in building homes for others, but all that Bob and Bev talk about is how they provided nice places for people to live.

Never pumped my own gas

It’s the many small things they do for each other that I find particularly touching and inspiring – and that probably helps them feel young.

Bev laughs when she announces happily, “I’ve never pumped my own gas.” While I assure her it’s underwhelming – and I know she’s capable – I’m impressed that over their nearly 69 years of marriage, Bob has always been thoughtful enough to ensure that her car’s gas tank is always full.

I had heard Gill family lore that Bev combs Bob’s hair every morning and has done so for years. I wondered if this was true or just an isolated incident that had grown legs in the family’s retelling.

Then one morning last month, I walked upstairs to find Bev’s beauty salon in full swing. Bob sat quietly while Bev put the finishing touches on his hair before he headed out to his office.

Yep, at 93, Bob still happily goes into his office six days a week. His son, Kirk, handles the day-to-day operations of their homebuilding business, but Bob has a spring in his step as he walks into and out of the office building that he built and that the family still owns. Let’s add, “keeping their minds active” to Bob and Bev’s list of secrets for aging well.

Family connectedness

Another secret: They’ve always made time for family. On the giant birthday card the family gave the couple this year, grandson Kyle recalled the couple taking eight or more grandchildren at once on outings to parks, on hikes and to cemeteries to pay respects to deceased family members.

“Whether intentional or not, this instilled a sense of lineage and connectedness within the family that I still cherish,” Kyle wrote. “I look back with much fondness – and respect for their willingness to take eight-plus kids for a whole day!”

And in this sports-focused family, Bob and Bev always made time to attend their boys’ and grandkids’ games year-round: hockey, basketball, football, you name it.

Grandson Tony Gill remembers his grandparents making time for sports, even between games.

“As a kid after dinner, I would run to their house, walk right in and ask if one of them could play catch with me,” he wrote. “One of them would always drop what they were doing to take the time to play catch with me.”

We can do the same

We have so much to learn from Bob and Bev Gill, even for those who don’t know them personally.

They appreciate everyone and everything in their lives. They care for all their loved ones. They have fun every day.

All of these things make them happy. The happier they are, the healthier they are, and that makes them even happier.

We can all easily do the same.

Whether you are single or attached, have family nearby or not, working or retired, we all can find people and things we care for right here on our lovely Kauai. And we get to do it in the land of sunshine, great surf, gorgeous mountains, blue skies and fresh air all around us.

As Bev often says, “Life’s great, isn’t it?”

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