Longevity comes easy when family is everything

On April 16 Doris Gilbreath will turn 97 but could be mistaken for decades younger.

Little girls may want a pony, a grown woman may want a vacation. But all Doris Gilbreath wants for her ninety-seventh birthday is to spend it with family, and be in the paper.

“I’ve got the best kids in the west,” Doris said. “I hope the whole family comes here and just tears the house up real good.”

On April 16 Doris will turn 97 but could be mistaken for decades younger. Her mind is sharp, and so is her memory. Except she seems to forget whatever problems ailed her in years past, because for the most part she’s in excellent health. She attributes her longevity to not smoking or drinking throughout most of her life, and in more recent years she’s been drinking apple cider vinegar mixed with honey and water everyday.

Doris lives with her son, who does the cooking and the driving, but she’s responsible for daily housework like cleaning and laundry. She also goes for a walk everyday up and down Westcott Bay Road.

“And still tells us what to do,” said Lois Brashear, Doris’s 76-year-old daughter.

Doris moved to San Juan Island with her husband and four children in the 1960s. Before that they were seed-crop farmers in Idaho and then had a chicken ranch in California. Doris was good to her kids, but they had to work.

“We didn’t have anybody so the kids had to work,” she said. “My daughter had to use the tip of her toe to push in the clutch on the tractor.”

But when the kids got tired it was time to retire for the day and when the kids got tired of cleaning eggs from the 4,000 birds on their chicken farm, Doris bought a mechanical egg cleaner.

Life on San Juan was different in the 60s. There were no paved roads, no traffic and no big houses, she said. But Doris isn’t complaining.

“I’m happy right here,” she said.

Doris was born in Idaho in 1918, into the time of Model-T’s and no birth control. Most of her relatives (and there were plenty) died in their 40s and 50s. Doris is the longest-lived member of her extended family.

So, what made Doris want to be in the paper? Well, her ninety-sixth birthday announcement in the Journal was too small for her to see (she’s developed a bit of blindness).

Happy birthday Doris, from the Journal of the San Juan Islands!