I’m reading a lot of end-of-the-year blog posts right now and they all seem to have a similar theme. It goes something like this: 2016 was a tough year in many ways, but 2017 is full of potential and possibility. Buckle down and keep moving forward.
I can relate. In early November, my beloved mother-in-law, Miriam, died at age 96. On Christmas Eve, her husband of 63 years and my beloved father-in-law, Bill, followed at age 97. As Mr. Adventure said, “I think he had spent 63 Christmases with my mother and didn’t want to be without her on the 64th.” Which about sums it up.
There is both grief and relief when loved ones die at such venerable ages. Although I’d been expecting it for some time, I was thrown when it actually happened. Bill and Miriam were in their seventies when I met them and so I knew them only during the last chapters of their lives. I loved them dearly — they were wonderful in-laws — and am grateful for the lessons they taught me simply by living their lives. So as I buckle down and move forward in 2017, I’ll keep their lessons in mind.
Lesson 1: Be kind and of good cheer.
Miriam was happiest surrounded by her family, and Bill was happiest when Miriam was happy. This is a winning recipe for a long, happy life together. As long as we’ve lived in Olympia, I’ve met people who asked, “Are you related to Mr. Adventure?” When I say yes, I’m married to him, they inevitably respond, “He’s the nicest person.” Yep. Bill and Miriam and their children are the kindest, nicest people I’ve ever met. My sisters-in-law and I have talked about our incredible good fortune in marrying into this family. Their kindness and niceness passed genetically from Bill and Miriam to their kids and grandkids (our daughter got a full dose, too), a legacy of nature and nurture worth emulating.
Lesson 2: Be a global citizen.
Bill and Miriam had been retired for several years when I joined the family, and they modeled how to do retirement right. They traveled to more than 35 countries together, often as volunteers. At age 89, they went on safari in Botswana and came back brimming with stories of the people they’d met. While exotic destinations were fun, Bill and Miriam were all about making connections with people at home and abroad. They hosted exchange students and sent their kids on exchange, creating lifelong bonds across political, cultural, and religious boundaries. They gave assistance to refugees from war. Miriam was thrilled when President Obama was elected in 2008, saying, “He looks like what the world looks like!”
Lesson 3: Be honest, work hard, play fair, and don’t make a big deal about it.
Into her eighties, Miriam gave no quarter, gleefully trouncing her children and grandchildren at pickleball and solitaire. I know this from personal experience, having lost to her numerous times. She would allow herself a triumphant cackle, and she was impossible to resist. But a game was a game and that’s all. Bill wasn’t as competitive, and he never wanted a fuss made about his many accomplishments. In fact, his whole approach to life was something along the lines of, “I don’t want to be a bother.” (“Coffee with your apple pie, Dad?” “I don’t want to be a bother.”) Nevertheless, the many comments on his newspaper obituary make clear his reputation for honesty and fair play lives on.
Their lives were busy and filled with the kinds of challenges one would expect with a large family and successful careers. They never seemed overwhelmed or irritable, though; Bill and Miriam just did what needed to be done and had a lot of fun in the bargain. And although they each accomplished a lot in their lives, neither sought recognition or credit, preferring to do the job well and move on. It’s a contrast to today’s “let’s post everything on social media and wait for the likes to roll in” culture, and I think it’s a better way to live.
I could write much more about Bill and Miriam. How they were always thrilled to see me, Mr. Adventure, and their granddaughter. How family gatherings typically included at least 50 people and lots of love and music. How they sought new experiences and people throughout their lives. How I’m so, so grateful to have known them and to be part of their family.
Since this is a blog about national parks and wilderness and public lands, let me make a connection. Bill was a boot maker. In 1964, Bill and Miriam climbed Mount Hood with the Mazamas. Bill was testing out new hiking boots he’d developed. Within a few years, he perfected the Danner Mountain Light, which Backpacker magazine in 1973 called “our ideal hiking shoe.” Thousands have worn these boots on the backwoods trails of North America and, later, Asia and Japan. Reese Witherspoon wore an updated version in the 2014 movie Wild. (Miriam wore a pair 20 years earlier when she summited Mt. St. Helens at age 74.) Danner Boots are a Pacific Northwest regional icon. Maybe you own a pair and appreciate their ruggedness on the national park and national forest trails. If so, next time you’re out, give a thought to Bill and Miriam Danner, who are role models for living life to the fullest and whose legacy is so much more than boots.
Please read more about Bill and Miriam’s extraordinary lives in stories published in the , Portland Tribune, KOIN, Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Business Tribune, KGW, the Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, and the Hood River News.