My father’s 96th birthday found him in the driveway sifting soil.

Each winter Dad empties the dirt from the flower boxes onto a large mesh screen atop a wheelbarrow. He pushes it back and forth to filter out the leaves, dead roots and other detritus.

Then he refills the window boxes.

He says it saves money because he doesn’t have to buy fresh soil.

He has a similar system for the stones in the driveway. He shovels sand filled with small stones onto the mesh screen. After he has isolated the rocks, he washes them in a bucket of water.

There may be other people who wash the stones in the driveway, but there can’t be many.

It does make a difference however. The driveway looks amazing.

He is always on the lookout to add more stones. A few years ago a house down the street was going to be torn down. He asked if he could have some of the stones in their front yard.

He spent the next week filling up the wheelbarrow and making countless trips down the sidewalk.

Back at the house he sifted and washed.

He has very specific requirements for the size of his rocks. They cannot be too small or too big.

You realize the difference when you walk on them.

The neighbors made that mistake. They wanted to fill their yard quickly and easily so they bought larger stones. My dad shook his head when he saw them being unloaded. He already knew, what they realized later, that if the stones are too large your ankle twists when you walk on them. It’s uncomfortable. Months later, they swapped them out at greater expense.

Washing driveway stones and sifting soil for the windowboxes is probably not how most people imagine retirement.

People who would never imagine doing that are the same people who ask how my dad stays so healthy and happy.

A big reason is that he stays active. Every day he has projects. He’s out working in the yard or in the garage or under the house.

Recent projects have included planting the Chrysanthemums (most people throw them out), labeling the tools in the garage and building a rack to hold the ladder in the crawlspace under the house.

He refuses any offer to help that would render him sedentary.

You can do things with my father, but not for him.

That is one secret to longevity. As you get older, people will offer to help. They mean well. But if possible turn them down.

(Part of a series life lessons based on conversations with my parents.)