We may think we’ve got life figured out. But if you really want to learn something about love, life, and longevity, it’s best to sit down with a couple who understands its true value. Such is the case for Bob and Gerry Peterson of Plainfield, who have been wed for 77 years. Gerry turned 100 last April, and Bob just hit the century mark in September 2018. Their big secret to happiness?
“Positive thinking,” says Bob without skipping a beat. “Negativity doesn’t get you anyplace except in trouble.”
Gerry playfully pipes in: “He positively was the one I wanted, though I had to chase him for awhile!”
The two met as teenagers, and to listen to Bob and Gerry recount their courtship, each insists they pursued the other. That may very well be true because it seems that an honest display of empathy, consideration, and genuine love for your mate is the secret sauce to maintaining a lasting, meaningful relationship.
The pair graduated high school in 1936. Following graduation, Gerry worked as a secretary and Bob became a $50/month messenger, carrying mail back and forth between banks. One day he was offered a job at a tool company making $23.75 a week.
“I told the personnel manager at the bank what the other job paid, and he said, ‘Heck, I’ll go with you!’” recalls Bob.
Soon thereafter, a Navy recruiter asked Bob if he had any special skills. He could type. Next thing he knew, he was assigned to Pearl Harbor, working in the Communications Department under Admiral Charles Nimitz—“the big honcho,” says Bob, who commanded allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.
Bob still vividly recalls the flood of emotions that enveloped him when the car pulled up to his house to take him to war.
“I looked up on the porch to that gal who was eight months pregnant,” says Bob, motioning towards his lovely bride. “It was two years before I got to see my wife and meet our son. But that’s life.”
He states it matter-of-factly, but with the passage of time and changing perspective, there’s a hint of wistfulness mixed into his tone. He offers a gentle smile and says, “You have to let this stuff flow back into your mind from time to time.”
Last spring the pair moved into Cumberland Trace, an assisted living community in Plainfield so that they would no longer have to worry about cooking and cleaning responsibilities. They certainly don’t rest on their laurels, however, which is part of the secret to their good health. Every day the lovebirds stroll the complex, vowing that regular exercise, steadfast faith, and the 5 o’clock martini hour are the three key ingredients to a joyful, illustrious life.
“Gerry and I look at each other sometimes and remark, ‘Holy smokes! We’re the old people in this place!’” Bob says with a chuckle.
It doesn’t seem possible to them, nor to those around them because they don’t look, sound, or act their age.
“Life is a fascinating thing if you just open up and listen to it,” says Bob, who recently unearthed a three-page letter he had penned to his young bride, describing his feelings after learning that the war had ended. A fascinating nugget of history, it offers a glimpse into the heart and mind of a young soldier during the apex of emotion.
Perhaps one of the best parts of living to a ripe old age is having that many more life experiences from which to draw. Some stories offer a lesson. Others are pure entertainment. Take Bob’s “egg story,” for instance. When his children were young, Bob was driving a large basket of eggs home so he set them in his son Robert’s lap, who was sitting in the backseat.
“My pop was driving a 1929 Essex, and a road crew was laying down gravel. Dad took a turn too sharp on the gravel and the Essex, the eggs, and I all tipped over,” recalls Robert. “The mess was everywhere!”
The moment they got home, Bob parked the car in the garage and didn’t open it again until his vehicle was spotless.
“Life was so simple back then,” says Bob, who retired in the mid-60’s after managing a steel operation in Michigan. In recent years, the pair have relied on their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews to shuttle them to and fro.
“The kids keep things going in a nice way,” says Bob. Not that they’re making plans; they’re too busy enjoying the moment.
“When you’re mucking around life at our age, you don’t have the privilege of saying, ‘We’re going to do this or that,’” says Bob. “We just keep smiling.”
In the end, it all boils down to one thing: love.
As I’m gathering my things to leave, Bob reminds me of something that I shared during our visit when I commented on the exhausting nature of parenting. I’d told him that despite my son’s demanding personality, he regularly showers me with affection through his actions and his words.
“Remember that your boy said, ‘I love you, Mom,’” Bob says as he reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze. “That’s what life’s all about.”
Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.