In 1960, Charlene Gaskill's boyfriend talked her into spending $1,700 on a new Volkswagen Bug.
Her father was dubious of car and boy. Who was this guy and who bought a German car over the quality of an American made? In the eternal cycle of children ignoring their parents, Charlene bought the car and married the boy. That was 348,380 miles and 19,833 days ago. Original engine, original husband. Today, she is 75 years old and he is 77, and they drive the Bug together almost every day.
George Gaskill knows how to keep a good thing going.
"You have to pay attention to the small things before they become a problem," he explained. "As soon as we saw any beginnings of rust we would take care of that right away. It's the same thing for our marriage all these years. We pay close attention to each other and take care of things long before they become a problem."
Charlene agreed. "That has been the main factor that has kept us happy together for 53 years of marriage," she said. "A lot of relationships are extremely strained and fall apart, sometimes because of general maintenance. You need to make sure that offenses are dealt with as they happen with forgiveness."
George makes a point of telling his wife every day: He doesn't just love her, he likes her. He is the only husband that goes to her piano club. She learned to love sailing. Every afternoon they have a coffee break together on the backyard swing.
George worked the same job for 33 years, as an Industrial Arts instructor at Dixie Hollins High School. When students found out he had lived in the same house, with the same wife, doing the same job, and driving the same car all that time they called him boring.
"I tell them they are so wrong. We are so blessed in this country. We have so many things, we tend to just discard them," he said. "I tell them it's important to take a second look at something and decide if you want to keep it. I think a lot of time we throw away things that are adding value to our lives. We do that with relationships. We do it mentally too. We kind of discard things in our thinking, or lower the value of things we believe in in our own mind, and we shouldn't do that."
"That's why the big tall oak trees have a deep root," Charlene added.
Their Bug has no air conditioning. It was built without a gas gauge. At every fill up, they write down their mileage in a small notebook, so they'll know when they next need gas. George has rebuilt the engine three times. The VW has had major accidents that sent it to the body shop. The maintenance has been constant, but is a small price to pay.
They took the Bug on their honeymoon. They brought their newborns home from the hospital in it. When their first son was potty training during a road trip vacation to Colorado, George pulled the back seat out, mounted a potty training seat on a board, placed a cushion over the hole, plopped their son on top and they finished potty training on the long drive. The Bug pulled a homecoming float for the same son in high school.
"The longer time you have something, be it a relationship or a car, the more experiences, the more things in common you have," George explained. "That's the real joy of our life. Everything we can remember doing, we remember doing together."