The secret to longevity might just be a beer a day. At least, that’s what’s been working for Canada’s oldest person, Ellen “Dolly” Gibb, who is also my great-grandmother.
Nan is currently 112. For as long as I can remember, at least as long as I’ve been of drinking age, she’s enjoyed an afternoon beer and sometimes some wine with dinner. Nan also enjoys full fat everything. I’d say her secret is to enjoy everything in moderation. That, and she’s never smoked.
But Nan only started drinking in her 70s. Alcohol first became part of her daily life with an occasional Scotch. She first tried beer at the request of her son-in-law. He was a Budweiser guy, and he must have convinced her because there came a time when Nan would get asked about her dating life, and she’d tell anyone who asked who she was seeing, “His name is Bud, Bud Weiser.” It’s a joke that never fails to make her chuckle.
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Our matriarch thankfully moved on from Budweiser, but not that far. I’ve always thought, if you’re going to have one beer a day, why not make it a surprising IPA or a rich stout. But not for Nan. Now, she’s now stuck on Coors Light, and will hardly try anything else.
“She likes what she knows and she knows what she likes,” says my Aunt Sue. (Aunt Sue also believes Nan’s just a fan of whatever’s cheapest.)
I didn’t grow up close to my Nan so when I moved across the country to complete my undergraduate degree and was at least in the same province of Canada as her, I’d try to make the drive north at least twice a year for visits. Days with Nan are days of routine. She very rarely leaves the house anymore, but has a busy day between meals and visitors.
One thing that has changed over the years is cocktail hour. It used to be that we’d wait until about 5 p.m. to crack a beer, but last time I visited, Nan was offering one up at 1 p.m. One beer with lunch is fine. Even another into the afternoon if you’re just sitting and visiting, but I’ve learned not to grab for number three. There’s a hard line and more than two drinks a day seems to be it.
Her judgment no doubt comes from a life of seeing how too much drink can impact lives. Nan’s life began in 1905 when broadcasting music and talk via radio was just an experiment, and now, every year on her birthday, family from across the country FaceTime her on her iPad.
Nan avoided booze for so long because of how she saw it affecting those around her.
“She used to hate how my grandpa would hand over his paycheck and take his allowance to the bar,” says Aunt Sue.
When Nan talks about her husband, which she rarely does as he died in 1968, she’ll often throw in that he was an alcoholic. Binge drinking today is not referred to as alcoholism, but you can imagine the many people Nan has witnessed who have ruined their lives because of abuse or a dependency on the stuff. She has little patience for that.
What she does have patience for is any news of the Queen, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopordy, and keeping track of her very extended family. Today she has nine grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren. We all take great joy in being able to raise a glass to our country’s oldest person – our Nan.