It’s not unusual for Audrey Birklid and Bob McMinn to turn heads when they’re out on a date.
The octogenarian couple seems to radiate happiness when they’re together — and it rarely goes unnoticed. They remember once after dancing at a pub in Prague about five or six years ago, a patron approached and said after careful consideration, she’d come to the conclusion there was no way they could be married.
“(She said) ‘You can’t be married because you’re having too much fun,’” Birklid said with a laugh.
The snowbird couple, both 86, got a second chance at romance and a new lease on life when they started a relationship about 11 years ago after meeting at a condominium complex where they both wintered in Florida. Birklid’s husband Leon died in 2004, one day after her 70th birthday, while McMinn’s wife Joan died in 2008. The two had seen each other around the complex as they both lived there previously with their late spouses, but never really met until they were introduced at a function.
The spark between them was immediate. They found they shared a similar outlook on life, made each other laugh and both enjoyed dancing and golfing.
“We just met at functions and then it became obvious that we were both terribly lonely,” McMinn said. “We had so much fun together, having gone through what we had gone through. We just lit up each other.”
But these days, the only light between the two is the glow emanating from the screens of their iPads. The two have been separated since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, like many, have only been able to keep in touch through the use of technology.
For the last 11 years, Birklid and McMinn, who are unmarried, have been spending roughly eight to 10 months of the year together. They split their time between the United States, where Birklid is from, and Canada, where McMinn lives in Toronto. They have also travelled extensively, visiting more than 20 countries by McMinn’s estimation.
Birklid, who has three children, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren, and McMinn, who has two children and five grandchildren, have sustained their relationship over the course of the pandemic through FaceTime video chats.
They typically share breakfast or coffee together in the morning, have a cocktail at around 4 p.m. and always make sure to say good night.
On a Tuesday afternoon in December, as McMinn settles down with a rum and coke and Birklid sips Vio and water from a tall tumbler, the two are asked where they would be without their video calls.
“Very sad,” they respond simultaneously, their voices crackling in the video chat due to the overlap.
“I think it’s made us appreciate each other even more,” McMinn added.
The couple is grateful to be living in a time where they can communicate via video and said they recognize they’re luckier than others because they’re both in good health and financially stable.
But that doesn’t make their separation any easier.
“You can’t have as much fun as we have had in the last 10 years and have it cut off and not be hurt by it,” McMinn said. “It was tough. When you get that great second chance and then it’s taken away from you by this horrible virus.”
When the two were last together in March, they had driven from their shared condominium in Florida to Birklid’s home in Deerwood, Minn. When it became clear the pandemic was more serious than they realized, McMinn decided it was best he drive back to Toronto.
They never thought they’d be apart this long.
It’s particularly hard for Birklid, who worries about a scenario where they would be unable to reunite if one of them got sick.
“The hard part for me is our age,” Birklid said.
“It’s scary to think that if something happened to Bob, when we are so far apart like this, that would be very crushing for both.”
As they reflect on the distance between them and the connection they have cultivated, the two become emotional.
“When you’re 86-years-old, you can’t help but once in a while think … ‘Why me Lord? Why am I so lucky? To have my health, to have what we have?’ We have to be thankful for it every single day,” Birklid said.
“You’re gonna make me cry,” McMinn interjects, without a hint of sarcasm. “Which you often do.”
Along with their daily video chats, the hope of reunification is what keeps McMinn and Birklid going. When asked if they have any plans for the next leg of their journey, McMinn hints that Spain and Gibraltar might be in the cards, but he doesn’t want to spoil the surprise.
“Audrey doesn’t know it yet so I can’t say,” he says with a mischievous smile in a three-way video chat.
“What?” Birklid responds, visibly surprised.
McMinn decides against being coy.
“There’s a Christmas present on your way darling. Which is the beginning of the next trip.”