When he goes out, which is rare these days, he catches himself muttering to passersby.
“Wear a mask,” the elderly man grumbles to the maskless in his Huntington Beach retirement community.
His wife of 71 years keeps her mouth shut, which is not something she often does.
“If they’re so stupid not to wear a mask, I’m not going to tell them,” she says. “They don’t know how serious it is.”
Meet Sam and Edith Gollay, extenders of life, defeaters of the coronavirus and experts on how to stay together for more than seven decades. Sam is 98. Edith is 92. They were married in 1949 during the Truman administration. They have been married longer than Bill Murray, Stevie Wonder, Rush Limbaugh and Jill Biden have been alive.
They were married before the invention of the credit card, super glue, the microchip, the Barbie doll and the polio vaccine.
“We are survivors,” Sam said, wearing his World War II Naval Air Force veteran’s cap. He was a field mechanic stationed at Pearl Harbor (after the base was bombed by the Japanese) until the end of the war in 1945.
Here’s a quick secret to long life, according to Sam.
“Luck,” he said, and he meant it. He considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He’s beaten cancer five times.
“FIVE TIMES,” he yells. “Four gall bladders and one colon.”
And that’s just the start.
Just wait until you hear the one about how he hurt his foot.
Best thing that ever happened to him … aside from meeting Edith.
Sam Gollay grew up in the shadows of Chicago.
Born in 1922, during the Warren G. Harding adminstration, Sam lived through the Great Depression, Prohibition and the rise of Chicago gangster Al Capone.
Sam made his career as a haberdasher, which is an old-timey way of saying he sold men’s clothing. He owned a store with his brother. But that’s getting ahead of the story just a bit.
When he was a kid, he said, he didn’t have much ambition. All he thought about was going to war.
In 1942, several months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II, Sam became a member of the Naval Air Force. He seemed destined for duty in the Pacific theater, on an aircraft carrier.
But during training on an obstacle course, he hurt his foot.
The injury lingered, and he walked with a limp.
And he was not assigned to a forward position on an aircraft carrier.
Luck, he said.
“The people in the forward positions got killed,” he said.
Limping, he was assigned to repair motors at Pearl Harbor, Haleiwa and Barbers Point. He came home on a hospital ship, which was heavenly if your injuries weren’t catastrophic, like Sam Gollay.
When he returned to Illinois – the very next day – he started at DePaul University, where he studied marketing. It wasn’t long before he and his brother opened Gollay Men’s Shop in Maywood, Illinois.
‘Better get used to me’
In 1948, Sam Gollay was vacationing at Pine Point, a camp in Wisconsin, when he noticed a girl.
He admired her curves, he said, as she walked past. He didn’t know her name or her history. Edith had survived polio. She was a tough cookie.
Sam chased Edith down and said, “Please stop.” When she asked him why, he said, “You’re the girl I’m going to marry. You better get used to me.”
It was love at first sight, he said.
“Not for me,” Edith said.
Edith said he asked her to take a ride in his car. She didn’t know many young men with cars, so she agreed.
They started talking.
“She gave me a lecture on how to treat a woman,” Sam said. “I fell asleep.”
She would have fled the car, she said, but there was a loose dog roaming around. She thought it was safer to stay with Sam. They dated for a few months, until Edith broke up with him.
This was the problem she soon discovered: She missed the big lug.
“I felt in my heart and my soul I needed him,” she said. “I missed him.”
So they got back together just before Sam graduated from DePaul. For a graduation gift, Edith got Sam a pen and pencil set.
“If I spent $15 on him, I better marry him,” she said, explaining her rationale. “Nobody wanted me to marry him, but I did anyway.”
They were married Nov. 6, 1949, two weeks before baseball player Jackie Robinson was announced as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Retire in the West
They bought a house in Morton Grove, Illinois
They had two kids, Howard and Debbie. The family lived there for 35 years. The haberdashery flourished for awhile.
Edith worked selling men’s suits.
“All of the customers came in to see Edith,” Sam said.
Gollay’s Men’s Shop closed in 1981 when Sam was 59 years old. He had made enough to retire.
Howard, their son, got a job at Southern California Edison, and he convinced his parents to follow him west. Sam and Edith moved into a retirement complex in 2000. They helped take care of Howard’s son, Nathan. They have two other grandchildren, Matthew and Michael (Debbie’s twins).
The best part about their new home in Huntington Beach was they had a courtyard just inside their front gate.
“I love to sit in the corner and have the sun on me,” Sam said.
As they flew past age 70, 80 and 90, their lives got smaller.
“All the seniors … they either moved or died or are in rest homes,” Sam said. “All our friends are gone.”
‘Didn’t want him to be alone’
At their advanced ages, Sam and Edith have help. They are both in wheelchairs, and they need caregivers to help them get through their days.
“I get out of bed on my own, and I dress myself,” Sam says proudly.
But, in the midst of a pandemic, the caregivers coming and going isn’t always safe.
In July, a caregiver came to the Gollay house sick. She told them it was just a case of allergies.
It was not.
“I was so mad,” Edith said.
The caregiver had the coronavirus. Within a week, both Sam and Edith had the coronavirus. And it got real bad, real fast. They were both admitted to the hospital.
The Gollays were kept in separate rooms on different floors. Sam got the worst of the illness. He had to be on oxygen 24 hours a day, and the medicine he was taking made him loopy. He didn’t recognize Edith.
“It was scary,” Edith said. “I was all by myself. The nurses were afraid to come in.”
Of course, Sam took the opposite point of view.
“I’m never afraid,” he said with bluster.
She said Sam was more dead than alive.
“I didn’t want him to be alone,” she said.
So she insisted that she be moved into his room, which she was.
They got out of the hospital in a week.
Lucky, Sam said again.
Sure, some of it is luck. But there is a lot of caring and compromise that has helped keep Sam and Edith together all these years.
What is the secret to a long marriage?
“What’s the secret …?” Sam says. “I’ll tell you what the secret is: The woman is always right.”
Edith, as you might expect, has a different opinion.
“Always make the man think he’s smarter,” Edith said. “But the woman always has to stay one step ahead.”
Source: Orange County Register