Person of the Week
Carroll Gilson: Age is Just a Number
The community recently celebrated Carroll “Gil” Gilson’s 105th birthday with a car parade past his home at Kirtland Commons. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Carroll Gilson was born before America entered World War II in 1941; he was born before the stock market crash of 1929; he was born before speakeasies, bathtub gin, and flappers doing the Charleston.
There’s even more. Gil, as he is always known, was born before America entered World War I in 1917. To be sure, he was only one year old then. His birthdate is Feb. 2, 1916 and Gil has just celebrated his 105th birthday.
For the past 28 years, he has lived at Kirtland Commons in Deep River; he is one of the three remaining original inhabitants of the senior apartment complex operated by the Deep River Housing Authority.
“It’s just a nice place to live,” he says.
To celebrate his birthday, Joann Hourigan, the executive director of the Deep River Housing Authority, organized a parade and drive-by motorcade, including vehicles from the Deep River Fire Department, the Deep River Ambulance, a fife and drum contingent from the Deep River Junior Ancients, 40 Jeeps, and a car decorated with 105 balloons.
Gil watched wrapped in a Quilt of Honor, a blanket made by a local volunteer group to honor veterans. He served in Europe in World War II, driving an ammunition supply truck.
“I drove in France, Germany, Austria. You name it; I was there,” he says.
Gil has outlived two wives and a girlfriend; he has outlived two of his four children, and has not only grandchildren, but great- and great-, great-grandchildren as well.
The one thing he does not have is an explanation for his longevity, though he admits people ask him for one.
“Gosh, I don’t know,” he says.
Thinking about it after some prompting from Anna Pollock, one of his caregivers, he adds, “Humor,” and then another: “I never worry.”
Pollock said that people are always amazed when they hear Gil’s age. They give him what for most people would hardly be a compliment but are kind words in his case.
“People say that he doesn’t look over 80,” Pollock said.
Gil walks with the aid of a walker and uses hearing aids, but he reads both the Middletown Press and The Hartford Courant every morning without eyeglasses. He likes to fix his own breakfast of Cheerios and sliced bananas. He says he follows no dietary regime, and both Hourigan and Pollock noted how much he liked candy. Gil agreed. He also agreed he liked vegetables.
At a recent interview, his small brown dog Coco sat in his lap.
“Be careful; he’ll bite you. He is very protective of Gil,” Hourigan warned.
Someone walks Coco but once in a while, Hourigan said, Gil will tell her he is taking Coco for a walk. She quickly finds someone else to do it.
At a recent interview, Gil wore a UConn hat; he likes the women’s basketball team, but the team he really cares about is the Red Sox. Asked what great players he has liked over the years, going through names like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, he will only say, “I like them all.”
Gil was born on a farm in South Newbury, Vermont, the fifth of 13 children. In a book of memories recorded by a granddaughter, Gil recalled chasing cows through the meadow with bare feet. It was not for him.
“I never wanted to be a farmer,” he remembers.
Among the recollections of growing up that he shared in the memory book was the outhouse, he describes it as a two-hole affair and notes that it was a good place to go, not simply for bodily functions, but for peace and quiet.
He recalls that he was not a mischief maker as a young boy.
“I never did anything naughty or mean,” he confided in his memory book.
“He is a gentle man,” Pollock added.
Not yet 20, Gil came to Connecticut to work for an uncle in Clinton who had a freight hauling business. For many years he worked at the Uarco printing plant in Deep River, which closed in 1998.
Today, he likes what Pollock calls adventures—really, going out for a drive. She says he can still step up into her truck.
Maybe it’s a vestige of those early farm days, but Pollock says he likes looking at old tractors.
“Chester has a ton of them; they had that tractor parade,” Pollock said.
One of the challenging parts of living a long life, is seeing friends pass away.
“It’s sad, it’s sad,” he says.
And why he is still here remains a mystery.
“I don’t know why,” he whispers. “I just don’t know why.”
Still, he has some sound advice for people of any age.
“Just take it day by day,” he says.
When he finished talking with a visitor, Gil got up on his own, grasped the walker and followed by Coco jumping at his feet, proceeded toward the door. Like the Beatles song, it was just A Day in the Life, a day in a very long life