Devoted son enables parents to age in place: ‘When I hear them laugh, that’s my reward’

  • Lillian and Lee Evers of Montague have been married for 62 years and credit good nutrition, exercise, and positive attitudes for their longevity. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • David Gladstone, center, with his parents, Lillian and Lee Evers, for whom he designed and built a home in Montague. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • A wooden sculpture outside the Montague home of David Gladstone and his parents, Lillian and Lee Evers. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

For The Recorder
Published: 12/6/2021 2:32:09 PM
Modified: 12/6/2021 2:31:41 PM

Although he’s worked in Hollywood, David Gladstone knows that real life is different from how things turn out in the movies.

Gladstone, 71, devotes himself “pretty much 24/7” to caring for his elderly parents, Lillian and Lee Evers, while also doing IT (information/technology) work for the printing industry. “I fix coding and install new systems,” he said. “I don’t enjoy it like I’ve enjoyed more creative types of work, but it pays the bills for now.”

He speaks frankly about the sacrifices necessary to support his parents’ wishes to remain at home, but Gladstone also noted, “Every day is a gift. My mantra is: count my blessings.”

The hardworking jack-of-all-trades has led a colorful life. Gladstone would like to return to artwork someday. But for now, it’s all about family.

Visitors to the Evers-Gladstone home in Montague are greeted by the soothing sounds of rushing water, courtesy of the Sawmill River, as well as by a wooden sculpture carved to look like a wise old sage.

The symbolism seems appropriate, given that the Everses’ ages add up to 195 years.

Lillian Evers, 97, married Lee Evers, 98, in 1959. “We’re still in love,” she said. “We hug and kiss every day.”

She added, “It’s the second marriage for each of us. Sometimes, people need a practice run.”

Her husband quips, “I wrote the book on how to be a happy husband.”

But he’s not kidding. In 2017, Lee Evers wrote and illustrated “How to Be a Happy Husband: A Marital Wisdom-Kit,” filled with tips about kindness, compassion, and attentive listening.

It seems to have worked.

The longtime pair is a mix of similarities and differences. Their health profiles stand in contrast: Lil is frail, while Lee has been labeled a “medical miracle” by his doctor. Yet they share optimistic attitudes and remarkable senses of humor.

“Sometimes I can’t believe I’m this old and still in robust health,” said Lee Evers. “I credit excellent nutrition and at least 90 minutes of daily exercise. Up until two years ago, I jogged half an hour a day; now I stay closer to home to help care for Lil. But I still lift weights and do push-ups.”

He also recommends mental exercises that strengthen the brain.

“Lil is extraordinarily smart about food,” said Lee Evers of his wife. “She always has been. We eat a big salad every day.”

Lee Evers credits his wife with “making me give up smoking and whiskey. It also helps that we laugh a lot, and hug and kiss all day. We’re very sociable and have built our lives on happy states of mind.”

He added that they “don’t have serious disagreements. We’ve made it this far: she’s 97 and a half, and I’ll be 99 on February 12.”

Lillian Evers inherited her interest in nutrition from her father, who was raised and educated in Russia. “Every day for breakfast, we had a big salad,” she said, “with cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, green pepper, and other vegetables, dressed simply with oil and vinegar. We also had pumpernickel bread.”

The Everses now prefer waffles, french toast, pancakes, or fruit for breakfast. “For lunch, we have a big salad, like Lil grew up eating for breakfast,” said Lee Evers. At dinnertime, they enjoy fish or chicken, and love ordering food from local restaurants offering Mexican or Chinese food.

They go way back

Lillian Evers has known her husband since she was 10, and he, 11. The daughter of European immigrants and one of four children, she said, “Lee was so funny, my brothers and I would literally fall on the floor laughing. To this day, he makes me laugh. I think that’s a big part of why we’re still in love.”

It’s fairly common for one member of a couple to be an extrovert, and the other an introvert. Both Everses, however, have larger-than-life personalities.

Lee may have an edge in terms of physical robustness and the confidence that comes with growing up a gregarious male. But Lillian isn’t shy about standing her ground when her husband becomes overeager.

With some frequency, she says, kindly but firmly, “Darling, this is my story, and I’m telling it,” or “Don’t interrupt me, Darling. I’m talking.”

Her husband doesn’t take offense. He sits back and enjoys hearing her speak. Or he springs up —with the energy of someone a quarter his age — to offers snacks to visitors.

They both grew up in a Jewish section of the east Bronx. “It was so European,” Lee Evers said, “with many different enclaves.”

When Lee was a year old, his mother died at age 28 due to complications related to gallstones.

“I was raised by my father, grandparents, and two aunts,” he said. “Those five people gave me everything I needed. I received special attention and a lot of freedom.”

Lillian and Lee reconnected in their late 30s as their first marriages were faltering. Lee was deeply unhappy about the lack of closeness with his first wife, while Lillian agonized about the fact that — although one of her sons needed support with personal struggles — the boy’s father pronounced that no son of his would seek counseling.

“I knew I needed to get out of that marriage, for the sake of my children,” said Lillian Evers, “but in those days, it wasn’t so easy to make a change. My father was staunchly opposed to my leaving the marriage. But I knew I needed to do it in order to be truly healthy.”

Lee proposed that they get together, but Lillian initially declined, since she knew Lee’s first wife, and didn’t want to make waves.

Within a short time, however, Lillian acknowledged a desire to accept Lee’s proposal. She came into the marriage with three children, and Lee with one. “The boys were ages 9 to 14,” she said.

“We had lean times,” said Lee Evers. “When we got together, we lived in Pearl River, a half hour north of Manhattan. At first, we owned no furniture.”

But soon Lee Evers ran into an old friend from high school. When the friend, an interior decorator, heard of the Everses’ situation, he said, “Don’t worry. Tomorrow, you’ll have furniture.”

The next day, a truck pulled up with everything they needed. “Things like that happened to us a lot,” said Lee Evers.

Career paths

Lillian went back to school after years of motherhood, earning social work degrees in her late 40s at Fordham and Yeshiva universities. For a decade, she worked as a marriage counselor, and received additional training at the Gestalt Institute in Los Angeles.

Lee’s career paths began earlier in life, as was common for men in that era.

He was drafted into the Army at age 19 and trained as a radio gunner on an airplane. Radio gunners provided communications for bomber aircraft and served as aerial gunners, defending their aircraft against enemy fighters.

“You want to know the truth? I got the worst mark for mechanics they’d ever seen,” said Lee Evers. “To this day — ask anyone around here — I’m not even allowed to touch the Venetian blinds in this house.”

Despite his miserable test score, the Army somehow deemed him eligible to be a pilot. “Can you imagine?” said Lee Evers. “One of my aunts said, ‘Don’t you dare fly; you could get killed.’ So I passed on that assignment and was sent to New Guinea to work as a lieutenant colonel’s assistant, because I knew how to type.”

After his time in the Army, Lee Evers went back to NYU at age 23. “Faculty members referred to me as ‘beyond creative’ and urged me to take the Cooper Union art exam. I figured my chances were slim; there were 600 applicants for 20 scholarships. But I won a four-year scholarship without ever having taken a real art course.”

Lee Evers spent much of his working life in the toy industry, including as a top sales representative for Mattel and Knickerbocker companies.

Life in Montague

“I love living on this hillock, right on the river, yet so close to main roads,” said Lee Evers. “Lil and I lived the first 20 years of our married life in the metropolitan area of New York City. Then we lived in Los Angeles for about 20 years, and now we’ve been here for about 20 years.”

Lee Evers recalls life in New York: “We played volleyball in Central Park, went to the theater, and took advantage of many cultural offerings. It was a lovely way to live. In LA, we enjoyed tennis courts and golf courses. We loved cities.”

Yet they find that, in Western Massachusetts, they “benefit from a stellar lifestyle,” said Lee Evers. “People are warm, store clerks are friendly, and no one makes us feel like strangers, even though we’re not originally from here.”

Lillian and Lee Evers are grateful to share a home with their youngest son. David Gladstone designed and built the house, which includes open living space and a magnificent kitchen, a vaulted ceiling, and a second-story loft.

Like his parents, Gladstone, 71, is a go-getter. “He’s an artist, sculptor, painter, builder … he even built sets in Hollywood,” said Lee Evers. “I’m telling you: there’s nothing David can’t do.”

What might seem like hyperbole inflated by parental pride is frankly pretty accurate; Gladstone’s work history sounds like the combined resumés of several people.

Gladstone entered the workforce at age 13 as an electrician’s apprentice, helping to wire 70 homes in a housing development. He sold Christmas trees at age 14, and worked at a lunch stand.

“I did all kinds of work, but gravitated toward creativity,” said Gladstone. “When I was 17, I lived off of my oil paintings.” He sold his art in St. Mark’s Place, a cultural hub in Manhattan’s East Village, propping his paintings against the sides of buildings.

Gladstone candidly shared that he also went through tough times, including a drug rehab stint.

“I got back on my feet,” he said, “and went to school for visual arts. After that, I worked as a freelance artist. I drove a taxi in New York City and later operated a junkyard crane. Lots of different jobs.” Gladstone also has a long history as a volunteer firefighter.

There were obstacles. Gladstone courageously decided while teaching art at a private high school to speak up in defense of students who confided in him that they were being sexually abused by a pair of teachers at the school.

“I blew the whistle, and as a result, I was fired,” he said. “That’s the way it was back then. People just didn’t want to hear about that kind of thing.”

Gladstone ended up in Los Angeles. In addition to building sets, he directed music videos and produced a movie. “But I can’t stand LA,” he said.

After coming back east, Gladstone built many houses and operated Gladstone Studios in Gill, which offered a wide variety of goods and services, including the production, direction and editing of music videos, biographical clips, and short documentaries.

He also designed and built unique projects that included furniture, stage and movie sets, props and displays. “After we finished a piece of furniture for a customer,” Gladstone said, “we’d destroy the blueprints, making it truly one of a kind.”

He ran a disc jockey service called “Have Tunes, Will Travel.” The large bus that served as the centerpiece of that business remains parked in the yard.

Gladstone knows that, someday, he’ll have more time to devote to his creative pursuits. For now, he keeps a close eye on Lillian, who sometimes has seizures and has fallen a number of times, and on Lee who — while astoundingly healthy — has also suffered some falls.

Friends and neighbors help out, too, for which Lee Evers expresses deep gratitude. “People offer to shop for us, take us to appointments, and help out any way they can. Without them, and especially without David, we would not be able to live with such daily joy. We are so grateful.”

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope.” Readers may contact her at eveline@amandlachorus.org or P.O. Box 223, Greenfield MA 01302.


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