ROBERT GILLIS,AUTHOR OF “NANA MY GRANDMOTHER ANNE GILLIS” TV INTERVIEW
BEHIND THE SCENES
EPISODE 214, “NANA”
FOXBORO CABLE ACCESS (fcatv.org)
HOST: CHARLIE MASISON
GUEST: ROBERT GILLIS
TAPED: JUNE 7, 2006
SHOW LENGTH: 1 HOUR
AIRED: THROUGHOUT JUNE AND AFTERWARD
NEW: Watch the video of Robert Gillis’ TV appearance as he discusses his book “Nana” on “Behind the Scenes” with Charlie Masasion. CLICK HERE
Charlie: Welcome to behind the scenes. This show is a one word description. Nana. [spelling] Nana. And we’re glad you’re tuned in — our guest is going to be, it is, Bob Gillis. Bob, welcome to the show.
BG: Thanks, Charlie.
Q: Glad to have you here.
BG: Thank you.
Q: And, we’re going to talk about Nana. And you’ve written a book. And I have a copy, but I haven’t read it yet. And in general, I don’t like trying to prepare for a show, I’d rather just come on, and here we go. And so if we can, I think it would be good if we could just zoom in on it. Do you think we can do that?
BG: Right into this camera here? OK?
Q: Right. Nana, by Robert Gillis. I think we’ve got it.
BG: I think we’ve got it.
Q: So, we go on. So, you wrote this book.
BG: I did.
Q: So, just reading a little bit on the back page, which is always the kind of the thing you want to do. If somebody picked up the book, and instead of trying to leaf through the pages, they can kind of get a feeling for what the book is all about. Nana was a very special person in your life.
Q: And I presume also, where she lived — and the home may have been a very special place for you too. And — I get the feeling that maybe Nana not only provided a framework of living to you, from one way or another. From the conversations we’ve had, or maybe some of the inputs she’s giving you over the years. And also, one thing I’m aware of is, that — when the scene is at the council of aging have a special event. There’s some food to be given out. Bob Gillis is there. And I try to translate and say, I think that might have some thing to do with Nana too —
BG: It does, it does.
Q: The liking and respect for the seniors. So, once we get started, why don’t you tell us, what motivated you to write the book.
BG: What happened was — Nana died. Nana died a few days shy of my 29th birthday. She had a stroke in August of ’93, and she passed away November 16 of ’93. And I used to visit Nana every day. When we lived in Dorchester, we lived just about a block away from Nana. It’s different from here and Foxboro.
Q: So, it’s walkable.
BG: Oh very walkable. So, I started visiting her every day until I was five years. And yeah — it was a point I remember, when I was around 11 or 12. I was sick, I missed a day. And I was thinking how unusual that was to not visit Nana, and I was only about 11 or 12. It became a regular thing. And in the early days, it was just to drop off a newspaper, say hi and go home. But, as I get older, and as my dad’s cancer developed, I started assuming more responsibilities of the house, and as she got older, the relationships changed a lot. I started sticking around a lot more. I started listening to the stories, I started writing them down, I started to get very interested in the family history. I started spending a lot of time with her, taking her places, taking her to visit her sister in Maryland. And we became very very close over the years. And up to — around the time I met my wife in 1990, I was still visiting Nana nearly every day. So, what happened was Nana went into a rest home, a very good rest home, in 1992. And she had a fall, and she couldn’t take care of herself anymore. And she flourished there, and she did very well, but in August of the following year, she had a stroke, and after about a week or so, left her comatose. And mercifully, she — she passed away only about three months later. She didn’t linger too too long, she didn’t suffer. But, the thing is, I fell apart. All of a sudden, I didn’t have anywhere to be at nighttime. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been with my wife, Susan —
BG: For 16 years, and by that I meant, there was no one who — relied on me to come in and make dinner.
Q: Somewhat obligatory that you had to be there.
BG: Sure. It was like the family responsibility. And I hated it. I hated coming home to not having to go to Dorchester to see her. Not having to go. And — I’d been writing all my life, and I just started — literally one day I opened a file on the computer, and I just started jotting down things I wanted to remember. Little stories she told me, little anecdotes, and I knew over time I was going to start forgetting them. What happened was, I was grieving. I totally fell apart in 1991.
Q: So, this was an outlet for the grieving.
BG: Very much so. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was incredibly therapeutic. And two years later, I had a book. And it was funny, what happened was, it sat on the computer, for another couple of years, I was doing all my other things, doing a column, and my regularly job as a computer guy, but there were two things that actually spurred this book to it’s publication. The first is my wife, Susan. She had been pushing me for a long time saying, you’ve got a great story here. You need to publish this. And I wanted to, but I really didn’t know how, and for Christmas this year, she got me this wonderful, “how to publish a book” package.
BG: And the real kick in the pants . . . I was going to say something else, but we’re on television, on cable.
BG: The real kick in the pants was Jack Authelet, who many people in town know, and I was talking to Jack one time, I think it was family night or something like that. And he was writing a book, he was in the process of writing a book, about World War Two veterans. And they’re dying at an alarming rate. But what’s worse is that their stories aren’t being told. So, Jack wanted to devote this new book to getting those untold stories on paper to the public before these people died. And I went home that night, and I told Jack this later, and said, “You know, I’ve got one of those. I’ve got one of those stories.” Nana never served in the war or anything but her life was remarkable and I think that the story is universal about growing older. And those two things, Susan saying, publish it publish it. And what Jack had said, I want to get this out there to a larger audience.
Q: Interesting, at the key from what you just said, is that Jack said it’s stories that should be told. Somehow you took that same thought. It’s a story about Nana, which should be told.
Q: She — her life was not remarkable in the sense that — she was never in public office, she never served in the military, but she fought her own battles. She came over here from Nova Scotia, Canada when she was only 17 years old to work. And she fought a lot of battles in her life, just as a woman in that time period, because we’re talking about 1919 or so, as a single mother later on, and it was actually pretty remarkable, her entire life, and I just thought her story should be told, she should be remembered.
BG: So, there’s a lesson going around in your mind, I would gather that basically said that — she did a lot of things, like — she had to be under anxiety. You come in — a country, you don’t know a lot of the idioms, in all respects of the language, you don’t know the customs, you don’t have a circle of friends, and what have you. She had to fight these battles. These battles of existence, and accomplishment. And I guess that a couple with that though — you can write that. But, that isn’t the whole story. The story must be the kind of discussions that you got into. And she said some key things to you that affected your life from time to time.
Q: Yeah, it’s funny. You know I’m in the Foxboro Jaycees, I’m very proud to be a member of that. I have to say that. But I am. I am very proud to be a part of Jaycees. The Jaycees have actually read this book in the book club of the month section, and I got some wonderful feedback. And Tom Whiffen, a good friend of mine in the Jaycees, he made an interesting comment, he said, “You call this book, Nana,” and he said, “The title, really, you might want to make it Nana and Me.” And we talked about that a little bit, and I had to agree with him. I had actually thought about naming it “Nana and Me” or “My life with Nana” or whatever. And I just decided ultimately on “Nana.” But Tom brought up a good point, because really the catalyst for this book was not, “I want to talk about everything Nana went through. I want to talk about my life with her.” My experiences with her, what she meant to me. The history of where she came from, the life she led, certainly sets up the person she became. But, it’s very much our story, and I told Tom that. And I said, “you’re right. It’s very much our story. And I told Tom that. I said, you’re right. It’s not the biography of Ann Gillis.” There are a lot of times in her life, Nana didn’t talk about. There’s about 10-15 years that I know nothing about in Nana’s life. But, it’s much more our story, my relationship with her. Her taking care of me, and then me taking care of her.
Q: Tom is very perceptive, because Nana by itself, basically — would not attract a lot of people to think about getting that book.
Q: Because many people have had Nanas.
Q: I never did. The only grandparent I had was a grandfather. Out of four possibilities, all I had was one grandfather. But, a lot of people say, Nana, yeah — had a Nana, but — Tom, I think — the minute you say, “Nana and Me,” it opens the door to a lot of — personal kind of — words that were exchanged and what he did for me, or what I did for her, because it was both going on at the same time.
BG: Yeah. Yeah.
Q: So, tell us a little about this.
BG: About —
Q: About the relationship and how —
BG: The relationship was unique. It really — I mean, from the start, somebody else that I talked to about this book said — you really visited her every day. You were so good to do that. And I heard that a lot as a kid, and it really drove me crazy. It really did. Because it’s like, especially when you’re a kid, you don’t want to be told, oh you’re so good or whatever. It’s just — it was the obligation, the responsibility and the obligation to take care of her. What I didn’t know at the time when I was five years old, but I soon found out, that Nana — like many of her generation, had a drinking problem. And the funny thing is, when we would talk about it back then, you might say, “Oh, Nana had a drink.” But, when I look back on it now, I say, “well Nana was an alcoholic.” And part of the reason that I was being sent to the house every day was to keep an eye on Nana.
BG: Was to make sure she was OK. And later on, that became — if she wasn’t — if she had been drinking.
BG: (Looks up) “Sorry Nana” Hiding the purse. So she couldn’t go out for more alcohol. Or hiding the bottle, so she would just fall asleep, because she was getting older, and she couldn’t drink. What was remarkable, was Nana and I came to an understanding about it. We never talked about it. We never, ever talked about. If she had been drinking, she knew that I had locked up her money, and I would give it back to her the next day. But, she also knew that I was taking care of her. And — the other thing about Nana that I think makes this story remarkable was Nana was a single mother. And Charlie, this was the thing I agonized over putting in this book. And — the reason was — my father did not know who his father was. And growing up, that was the big Gillis family secret. You did not talk about it. It was not talked about — you know, Nana — did she marry? It was glossed over. But, it was forbidden. You did not talk about it. And — when I first wrote this book, it literally ended — one chapter ended some time in the 1920s, and then the next chapter begins. Well, then Nana and her son moved into this house in Dorchester. And a very close friend of mine read it and said, “This simply doesn’t work.” You have this huge gap, and then “a space ship landed” and whatever. You have an immaculate conception happening here. It just doesn’t work. So, I had to talk about it. And it was very painful to do that. And I agonized about it to put it in.
BG: But, I finally said to myself. This is what happened. The story that Nana told was she was in love. Apparently for the only time in her life. And one night, she was dating this fireman or fire chief or something. And in her words, he took advantage of her. And what happened was, after she found out she was pregnant, he wanted nothing to do with her, and nothing to do with the baby. And this was 1936. So it’s not like today, where you have 14 year old kids and say, Oh look I’m having a baby. This was 1936. But, she kept my father, and she raised him. And I talk about the complexities of their relationship. And being a single mother not from this country, and she became an American citizen in 1942, and then she made the decision that she was going to open up a business, a rest home in Dorchester, and she had to fight the neighbors for it, because the neighbors didn’t want her to bring down the neighborhood by bringing in all these old people or whatever, and she said to hell with you, and she did it anyway. That’s what she was like. For 25 years. She studied nursing. But, in the book, I talk about that. I talk about how my father grew up — and — how unique that relationship was — and how — it’s almost like therapy looking back how my dad grew up with her, how she grew up. And now that they’re both gone, I understand them both so much better. And — I think part of the reason that I’m trying to — get this book to other people is — this is universal. I did not want to write a book about Nana — oh she liked to bake cookies, or whatever. She made great gingerbread, but she never baked cookies.
BG: But, she was in no way the stereotypical cookie baking grandmother, you know she was a fiery woman. She liked her drink. She never took any crap from anybody. But she was tenacious, and she made her way in the world, and she did very well for herself. And that’s some of the story I wanted to share.
BG: I think I got way off —
Q: Oh that’s OK —
BG: The question you asked me —
Q: That happens. Great talking. But your mind is partially in the book.
BG: Very much so.
Q: Right now. And you’re trying to — so let’s do it this way. We can do it many ways. And we’ll shift back and forth. Why don’t you in your mind, pick three items in that book somewhere.
Q: It could be a night that changed — about five different things, or a single thing. But, points. And let’s say I’m a reporter, and I say to you, in fact, I’m a reporter for the “Publishing World” and I say give me three reasons why someone should read this book.
BG: OK. I would say this. I have a dear childhood friend, Peggy Aquino. Her mother just passed away . . . she’s a little younger than I am. She was visiting our house recently, and I have her a copy of this book. She sat in the hospital as her mother lay dying, and as her mother died, and she said that reading about Nana and the way that I kind of kept vigil with Nana. It helped her realize that one, this was universal, but it provided her comfort. And it was the first time somebody reviewed my book and brought me to tears. She said this book gave her comfort, as her mother lay dying. Because she realized how, her mother died how universal it is, and how you need to cherish people. That’s something I realized a lot in the book. That I realized at a young age how much I loved Nana. And it wasn’t after she died that I thought I wish I had done such and such. There were no regrets except that she didn’t live longer. Because, I mentioned several times in the book. I cherished her while she was alive, I knew it — and the second lesson, I think in the book is, you need to cherish those around you, not just your senior citizens, but the people you care about. You need to cherish them. I mean, the majority of this book was written pre- 9/11. But, even listening to the radio on the way over here, there are some pretty scary things happening, and you literally don’t know some days, if you’re going to go out to work and come back. You need to cherish the people that you know now. And you need to tell them that you love them. My own mother, I don’t think an email or a phone call goes by ever, that doesn’t end with I love you. My sister, my wife. Except when we’re fighting. (laughter) But then it’s “I love you I’ll talk to you later.” But, I think the third thing I’d tell people, Mr. Publisher, is that senior citizens do not become useless as they become older. God bless her, Lorraine Garland, I think unfortunately, it’s been almost six years since Lorraine and Stanley passed, I loved them dearly, and unfortunately a lot of people that are living in Foxboro now, don’t know the — contributions that the Garlands and Jerry Rodman made to this community.
BG: And it was my wife Susan who got me involved with Lorraine Garland, with the food pantry. And that translated to helping out with the senior center. It was Susan who said the senior center is — they want to build the senior center, they’re in the Lewis School one year, they’re in the Taylor the next, they’re in the basement the next. The first piece I ever wrote for the Foxboro reporter was a full page column about why we need a senior center in Foxboro. And that’s why — every Christmas, or every November you’ll see me at the senior center with Susan doing the hot dogs and beans and everything. I love those folks. When the Jaycees do a senior appreciation day or anything for seniors, I want to be a part of that. I love senior citizens. And that’ll be the fourth message of the book, you only ask for three —
Q: Just keep it going.
BG: Just keep it going. Is — they’ve already been there. To use the “been there, done that” metaphor. They’ve already been there and done that. They’ve lived it. You see a lot of these people and they’re 80 years old, 90 years old, and so many people dismiss them, they’ve been there. These are people who lived through the hard times, the greatest wars, really struggled. I mean — you look outside this studio, you can’t tell there’s a war on Iraq now, but that generation did and they sacrificed and they suffered. And I talk a little bit about that in the book. Their stories … they’ve had these experiences, and their stories need to be told. You need to ask them about it.
Q: You’re absolutely on target in many different respects. Let me just go with you on one. It needs to be told — and I’ll give you a few examples and that is — I knew someone, probably 25, 20 years old — and this person, he was telling us his problems of not having enough money to do the kind of things that he wanted to do. And it leads me to the point, well two points, one is why haven’t you done something about it before?
Q: What we did. We went through this. OK? We went through it. We can go out and get a second job, a third job, a fourth job. Whatever it took —
BG: You worked.
Q: We worked.
BG: You were willing to work, you wanted to work.
Q: Right, because —
BG: Yeah, exactly.
Q: Because, yeah — either we had to make it happen.
Q: And the interesting thing is, I remember telling this person — I said — what do you pay for an apartment? Oh $1100. And I said, Well that’s great. I said, You’re saving money. Well, why can’t you get an $800 or a $600. I said — I was out in Chicago, and I had gotten out of the service, and had just a few bucks — I had a car, that’s all I had. I went to work for Western Electric. A nice big company. I soon discovered I couldn’t stay in the apartment. I couldn’t afford it. So I lived in my car for a month. OK?
Q: And that was my home. That’s where I slept. That was the whole thing. And I’m looking at him. And he doesn’t seem to get it.
BG: No, you get that — you get that deer in headlights look — they don’t understand at all, that generation.
Q: Exactly. And — the last thing is – [seniors] are the ones who have — as you said fought the battles, it could be finance, it could have been a romance that didn’t turn out — it could have been acceptance, it could have been health, it could have been anything. They fought the battles. OK? I’ll never forget. I came across an article on day about, in Boston — a family by the name of Sullivan. This was World War Two.
BG: The Sullivan brothers?
Q: Yeah, the Sullivan Brothers. They sent the Sullivan brothers off to war, I didn’t know —
BG: It was.
Q: The five them all died.
Q: This mother, lost five sons!
BG: There’s been poems written about her, there’s been songs — “Your Boys, Mrs. Sullivan.”
Q: Exactly. And you talk about the kind of things that they’ll go through. And — it’s interesting in Foxboro Cable access now has a show by the Washington — saying Mrs. Washington gave birth to a child when she was 14, and she had to raise that child. And it changed her life.
BG: It has to.
Q: And I know some single mothers, and what they’re going through. They come home at night. They take off the their coats and they go to start preparing a meal —
BG: Oh exactly.
Q: And then they’ve got to get the kids lined up to do homework the whole day. So —
BG: Interesting so —
Q: All of this reflects back on the coming generation and I think they’ve got to need some more of this kind of thing. And if that’s in your book, I think it’s going to help a lot of people. And one thing I personally advocate, is you’ve got to start taking responsibility for you own health.
Q: OK. It’s very important, you’ve got to do it. I guess I’ve known as a person who has written a book – Winning the fight against diabetes.
BG: Diabetes, absolutely.
Q: But it can be done.
Q: Because I’ve done it. I know a man in Colorado. He cured himself of cancer.
BG: I’ve heard stories like that.
Q: It’s been done. It’s been done. It can be done. The part of it, gets back to believe in yourself, believe that you’re worthwhile, and you’re this and you’re that. And so as you’re going through your relationship with Nana, you developed (inaudible) years. And you were changing, and she had to be changing.
Q: Did you (inaudible) those kinds of changes – what they meant to you.
BG: Yeah, there were a couple of periods I can think of and first of all I think it was — well it’s funny, because when I was in high school, I was selling papers for the Globe. In front of Woolworth’s in downtown Boston for three years. And someone once said about selling papers in the winter in Boston – that will teach you character. And it did. But, I treasured it. I met a lot of interesting people. I was very shy. I know a lot of people in Foxboro don’t believe that, but I was very very shy as a teenager. And it helped me to talk to people. But I would visit Nana after that. I would take the train back to Dorchester and I would visit Nana after that. When I was in college, after my classes let out for the day, I would go visit Nana. If I was going out with my friends, if I had a date on Friday night, Nana go visited first. Or my friends would pick me up at Nana’s house. Because they knew that’s where I’d be. I think one — there were two I think significant periods and the first was that — around the time when I got what I call my first real job as a computer guy — I was there in 1987 and 1988, I was working in Billerica doing a Foxboro-Billerica commute which is horrific on a good day, and really not so nice when it’s snowy. But I was arriving at Nana’s house until about 6 or 7 at night, so I started making her dinner. And I found that I really really enjoyed that. And I asked my mom who did — who took care of me for many years, and took care of Medicaid and the shopping. And said can you start picking up more food, different things I can make Nana. So one night it would be steak, another night it might be chops or whatever. But, Nana really enjoyed it, because now I wasn’t just coming down giving her the paper, and chatting with her, but we were sitting down and having a meal together. And that was really nice. We looked forward to that. And I remember a lot of nights, she said “Bobby I wish you lived with me, I wish we could do this all the time,” whatever. But, for me it was wonderful, because we were able to do this every night. But, I think that that was a wonderful period that I really cherished, because I got quality time with her. She wasn’t always upbeat as I remembered right on the cover of the book. She could be gloomy, with a lot of people she was melancholy. With a lot of folks in the family, they remember her as melancholy, she wasn’t upbeat. But, we had this connection, and I don’t know what it was — because it was funny, sometimes my mother would say — well, gee, Nana was really melancholy, she was really down. She wouldn’t be that way with me. She would be a little more chipper with me. A little more talkative. And — I don’t know what it was, but we had this connection. The second period that I really think of was — in 1989, she fell and she broke her hip, and — it actually part of it makes it a very funny story because — I went to visit her, it had been extremely windy that day and it was the day before thanksgiving. She opened the door, and it basically flew out of her hand, she fell forward, she broke her hip. Now, I’m down there that night, it’s about 7 or 8 o’clock, I’m saying, Nana, I really think you broke your hip, I think you need to go to hospital. Well, she started arguing with me. (laughter) And — it’s in the book — I don’t think I can say it on cable television, but she made it very clear that she was not going to the hospital. She used a couple of adjectives to describe the hospital, but she was not — and she started shouting, “I’m not going to any @%&#! hospital!” So, as I said in the book, I appealed to a higher authority, and I called my mother. I said, please come down here, we’ve got to get Nana to the hospital. Well, her hip was broken. The hospital, after a month of rehabilitation put her into a nursing home. This is not the nursing home she died in. At this point, Nana was only 87 years old. I had a long talk with my mother, my father had since passed away and we were taking care of. And said, “You know, it’s not time for Nana to be in a rest home. It’s not time yet, she’s still articulate, she’s going to recover from this, she’s going to be all right.” And the mother said, “All right, well I’ll tell you what. Let’s give it some time.” And Charlie, as it turned out, it took exactly one night. Called up the next day, and found out that — Nana woke up in middle of the night at the rest home. I don’t put the name of the rest home, by the way in the book — the first one, because it was only — I don’t want to make any judgments about it. It was in Dorchester — it’s not the one she died in. But anyway, one of the staff members, Nana woke up in middle of the night, she wasn’t unruly or anything, she just didn’t know where she was. She was confused, “Where am I, where am I.” Well — the nurse told her to shut up, and tied her to a chair.
Q: Tied her.
BG: Tied her to a chair. So, my mother told me about this the next day. And I said, we’re getting her out of there, that’s it. I said, call the doctor, we’re getting her out of there. Someday, Nana’s going to have to go to a rest home, but not yet. So, my mom made a lot of phone calls, and she said, I think Anne can take care of herself, etc. and I went down there, and Charlie, I’ll never forget this, it was a terribly snowy day, and Nana was in this big sea of wheelchairs watching television, and I walked over to her and I just leaned close to her — big smile on her face, and I said, “I’m taking you home.” And the look on her face. I’ll never forget that. It was just amazing. And the doctor checked her out. And said, “Can you take care of yourself?” And she said, “Yes.” And I took her home that night. And she took care of herself for about another two and half years that she lived on her own and for the most part flourished, for the most part she did well. But, I often think of that period, because you asked me, your initial question was — different periods. And I certainly think of that period — it was like an extra gift from God. It was like extra time with Nana. And it meant, before she had to go into a rest home for real, that was a very precious time to me.
Q: It was quality time too.
BG: It was enormously quality time. I stopped — I had been doing repairs around the house for years; wallpapering and painting. At that point, I stopped doing that and I mention in the book that at that point, I realized the time was precious, and I didn’t want to be upstairs in Nana’s house wallpapering a bedroom or a bathroom. I wanted to be sitting with her, and I was listening a lot more intently to the stories now. I was asking her — she’d say, John Alec and I’d say, “Your brother, John Alec or the cousin from Judique?” I was asking clarification questions. I was trying to understand the family tree better, how she grew up, et cetera. I really recognized that — I knew the time was limited and I was really trying to milk it for all I could. I wanted to squeeze every last drop out of that time. So that particular period before she went into the rest home was very precious to me.
Q: If you had to come up with some messages, we could summarize part of this into messages, would you basically say, don’t treat your relationships lightly with anybody.
Q: Not necessarily your family, but your friends and so on. Relationships have a way of diminishing over a period of time; lack of contact and maybe lack of interest. Would you say it’s all too easy for you and me and everybody to get very busy in their career or whatever. You write for the Foxboro Reporter. You’re also a computer something or other.
BG: Computer guy.
Q: Yeah, computer guy, as you say. But you’re saying relationships are very, very important.
Q: You took this kind of thinking in your mind and you’ve tried to develop it. You’ve developed it with the Jaycees. You’ve developed it in many other ways. That’s got to be at least one of the strong messages that you’re trying to get across to our community tuning in tonight. Listening to you talk, I think a lot of them might say gee, you know I haven’t talked to Bill in a long time or whatever. You may talk to some people but they’re moving out there somewhere.
Q: There’s no intimate connection here.
BG: Exactly, and they’re letting them slip away. Another friend of mine now, she’s also in Jaycees, Wendy. She read the book also and she said that she has a grandmother in Stoughton and she hadn’t talked to her in some time. She sent me an email and she said, I’m writing you through my tears. Wendy’s a sweetheart. She and her family just moved to Foxboro, and they’re wonderful people and a great asset to the Jaycees. She wrote to me, I want you to know because of this, I’m going to — I think it’s Nana Helen and I hope I’m right about that. I’m going to see Nana Helen on Saturday. I’m bringing the kids for no other reason but to have a cup of tea from her. I got an email from Wendy the following Sunday, just so you know, I saw Nana Helen yesterday, and she says it was because of your book, and I thought that was wonderful. That message I thought was fantastic. You know Charlie, it sounds — I swear, I’m not being insincere here. I love being a member of the Jaycees. I’ve been at Jaycee now 13 years, and the group has evolved and it’s changed. I love what the group stands for. I love what the group is capable of and the good we do in this community. I love being part of that. I love helping out occasionally at the senior center. I love it when somebody comes up to me and says, “Your column made a huge difference.” Not everything I write for the Reporter is intended to be life changing certainly, but I wrote a very therapeutic piece a couple of years ago about my dad’s alcoholism. I entitled it, The Paradox of Two Dads. My dad died of cancer when he was only 47, and I’m 41 now. Even when he died, when I was 19, that still seemed pretty young and certainly, as I approach 47 I’m very conscious of it, but he was very much two different people. He was the father who adored me, who told me he loved me constantly, but when he was drunk, he was mean. He was — you know, he was never physically abusive or whatever, he was just mean. I kind of struggled with that. How do you reconcile that? How do you deal with that? I wrote a column about it actually and it was about a friend of mine, who I knew was an alcoholic and who was having a terrible time, and I mentioned him in the column, although not by name, and I basically said that you know, he had been sober for some time, and I mentioned how wonderful that was or whatever and I saw the guy. He gave me a hug and he said, “That column made such a difference. Thank you for writing it.” I said, you know, you’re doing all the work. I think that’s wonderful. So if I can get that kind of message across, that’s absolutely thrilling. Jeff Peterson, who is the editor of the Reporter — you can tell I’m plugging everyone in this interview, but Jeff Peterson, very kindly ten years ago, let me start writing for the paper. What I’m putting out is not Shakespeare every week and there are some that I read that I wrote, and I say, I really like this, and there’s one every now and then I’ll just say, I’m so glad I wrote that. I want to share the story. And sometimes it was a story of Nana. Sometimes it was some crazy experience my wife and I had or just some observation of live, but it’s so wonderful to be able to share that because so many of these are universal. And then you have people coming back saying, you know, because I read this that you wrote, I went out and did this. As a Jaycee, if someone comes up to us and says you know, because of all the good stuff you do, I’m going to do something good in my community or if someone comes to me and says, because of what you wrote, I’m going to do such and such. I’m going to donate to the discretionary fund or the food pantry. I’m really getting all the plugs in here, this is amazing. Who haven’t I covered yet? Oh, Primos, I love their sandwiches. But that’s wonderful. This is not the next Da Vinci Code. My wife Susan, she keeps saying, don’t say that. I said, I’ll settle for half those sales, but I want to get the story out there. I want to share that story.
Q: Because it’s going to help people.
BG: Absolutely. Absolutely. People getting older, having — I have a very dear friend of mine, a very dear friend, and her husband is dealing now with his mother, who is very ill. She’s developing Alzheimer’s and she’s developing Parkinson’s, and I feel very bad because I was telling her, I’ve been there. And you feel in a way like you failed this person because you want to be the one to go take care of her, and even for me that was horrible because I was like, I can’t be the one taking care of Nana every day. My mother can’t be the one taking care of Nana every day.
BG: The message that I’m trying to give her to tell him is you’re not failing by looking for extra care for your mom or needing to put your mom in a home because she needs that care. That’s not a failure and Charlie, that’s universal. We all at some point have someone we have to take care of.
Q: Going along with what you just said is something else that maybe we can enlarge upon, and that is we all learn from each other. So it’s more than just a relationship, hi, how are you? We learn from each other, we really do. There’s somebody in my acquaintance and when I ask her a question and I’m looking for this, they give me this. The first thing is they start telling me all they know about it, that’s all they can give. By the time they’ve told me all they know about it until finally I get closer to getting the real answer, I’ve tuned it out.
BG: You don’t remember the question at that point, exactly.
Q: I didn’t want to hear that. I’ll give you an example. One time in Washington, D.C., I was giving a presentation to an admiral that was part of my career. About three quarters of the way through he asked me a question and I proceeded to tell him all I knew about it. My boss was a senior vice president of a large company; GT&E. He said, “Charlie, please answer the admiral’s question.” And then if he wants to, tell him all the additional material that you could add to that, and I’ve used that example. I’ve said, you know, I used to do it. You don’t think about what you’re doing.
BG: It’s true.
Q: You just don’t think. You’re asked the question, how far did Ted Williams’ last home run go at Fenway Park? Where did the ball land?
BG: Well Charlie, Ted Williams was born in such and such a place.
Q: Yeah. (laughs) He hit 510 home runs.
Q: You finally get to the last one at Fenway Park.
BG: What was my question again?
Q: That’s important and we learn from each other. I’ll give you another example in a different way and then perhaps there’s some that will come to your mind. I came out of the service and had a job, as I told you. I came east and until I got the job I really wanted to get — this was all leading up to going to college. I had some time and one of my spare jobs was delivering groceries in a pickup truck. This was the thing that the grocery story was known for. This lady would call in, order would be put up, Charlie would deliver it. And I delivered to this one lady and I’m carrying up the groceries and so on, and I come back down she says, “Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life?” I said no. “Well what do you want to do?” Well, I want to go to MIT. You want to go to MIT. Why do you want to go to MIT? Because it’s the best school in the country but I just don’t think I could ever go to MIT. She said, “Four years from now, how many will be graduating?” I said about 450. “Why can’t you be on the of the 450?”
Q: Bingo. That changed my life because I decided I was going to go, and I did go. I had four wonderful years there and it propelled me into well, talking to admirals for example.
BG: Yeah, absolutely, and town office here.
Q: What kind of lessons or what kind of information or what kind of just thoughts did you get from Nana that you felt were instrumental later on in your life?
BG: Work ethic, certainly.
Q: Work ethic?
BG: Absolutely, work ethic. It’s funny because you mention delivering the orders in the pickup truck. I did that and my father worked in a grocery story for many years. You know, with the Dorchester accent, it was the “aw-dah” you know, we’re going to pick up the “aw-dah” and bring it over. But we did that for many years. I wanted to work when I was about ten years old. I was very frustrated that I couldn’t find a job when I was ten. When I was 11, I started going to the grocery stores, please, I want to work. I’ll sweep the floors or whatever. The first job that I could work was selling papers for the Globe.
Q: Do you think you got that from Nana?
BG: I got that from Nana and I got that from my mother and my father. They all taught me that if you want something, you work for it. Charlie, this generation right now has been called the entitlement generation because they want the — I saw a kid, no lie. I saw a kid the other day in Wal-Mart who said to his father, “Dad I want these sneakers, they’re only $150.” I would have never said anything even remotely like that when I was a kid. I would work for those sneakers. I wanted my first tape recorder when I was ten years old. I saved up for it for the entire summer, $20, and then my mother took me to Lechmere to buy it with my own money. Nana worked extremely hard, probably too hard, all her life but my father worked very hard too as long as he could to support us. My mother has always worked hard. My sister works hard. It’s an ethic in my family. For the first time in my life, I was laid off from a job about two months ago, and it was no reflection on me. The job basically got outsourced to Virginia. My boss was very sad about it and he told me you know, we never saw this coming. Neither did I but my immediate thought was OK, the bills need to be paid and I need to find work. But the second thing even beyond that was, I need to work. I have to work. Susan was fantastic and supportive because it could have been terrible and I could have fallen apart but I didn’t. She was very supportive. More than once she said to me, you know, I know how much you need to work. You need to work. I was very fortunate. I found a new job very quickly but I love that. I love getting up in the morning. I love working. I love that feeling of accomplishment and certainly, I got a lot of that from Nana. There’s a lesson in that. The goals that Nana set out for herself, she worked for them. She would often say that. She’d say — I don’t think that’s in the book but she would often say, “I worked for this house. No one gave me this house. I worked for what I have.” It’s funny, Susan, every now and then, will look at what we’ve achieved in ten years that we’ve owned in Foxboro. We’ve lived her 15 years and she’ll say, oh this is really nice or whatever and I always remind her, I always say, we worked hard for it. I remember the day we built such and such. I remember the day we cleaned that or we painted that or whatever. You work hard for it and for me, there’s joy in that, there really is.
BG: I enjoy that work.
Q: OK, that’s one very good example. What else? What else in your relationship with Nana seemed to be kind of a key thing that formed the way that you thought about certain things or did certain things, set certain values in your head or whatever.
BG: Nana was very big on family, on the whole family concept. I mean, she was one of eleven and then nine, well two died, nine brothers and sister, and she wasn’t close to all of them by any means but Nana always emphasized that it’s your family that matters the most. Nana, in some ways, almost took a family against the entire world approach, which I don’t subscribe to, but just that you need to take care of the family. When my mother and father were first married, money was very tight and my mother’s mother as well as Nana, at different times, showed up at the door with a box of food, and Nana would say, “I accidentally ordered two of everything.” It’s not charity, I ordered two of everything by mistake or whatever, but it was always taking care of the family. There was that bond, I think so certainly that would be the second thing that I took from Nana, is a very, very strong sense of family. Certainly the work ethic comes to mind immediately but very much a very strong sense of family.
Q: What else would you like to talk about?
BG: Let me see. I’d hope — I’d ask that anyone who reads the book would let me know about it. The book has a website. It’s www.nanagillisbook.com.
Q: Just say that again, slowly.
BG: OK. www.nanagillisbook.com, and it’s a website I created myself. You can buy the book. You can read excerpts from the book. There’s pictures of Nana. A couple of people said you know, why aren’t there pictures in [the published book] and I said well, there’s cost involved and I don’t know how many copies this will sell but there’s a lot of pictures of Nana there [on the website], there’s a tribute to my father and there’s — Charlie, this is the amazing part. I’ve been contacted now from people from Canada and from over the United States who read this and I’m related to. Nana had a brother named Neil. Neil’s grandson, who I’ve never heard of, contacted me and emailed me a while back. He said that the pictures on the website of his grandfather are the only one’s he’s ever seen and he loved the book. So I’d like people to please, check it out. It’s on amazon.com. It’s on Narnes and Noble (bn.com), www.nanagillisbook.com and so many others. There are reviews. I did a book signing — my first — a couple of weeks ago. I would love it if people will read it, and my email address is in the back of this book too, along with the website and I would ask people if you liked it, if you hated it, contact me. Send me an email, I want to hear from you. Let me know if it helped you, if it changed your life or if it just made you smile. That’s what I would like people to do.
Q: Well I think we’ve learned a lot. My intuitive feeling was to learn a lot about you and who you are and what you are.
BG: Did you?
Q: You’re a talent, yes. You’re a very talented person.
BG: Well thank you.
Q: The book is the book and the fact that you wrote it is enough for me you know, and I’m going to read it.
BG: I want to know what you think of it afterward.
Q: I’ll let you know what I think about it afterwards.
BG: Please do.
Q: OK. It’s interesting in that it represents a lot of work. You accumulated it all but you had to put it all together.
Q: And it had to make some sense to you. What you had to do, I would think, if you’re going to have that book out where it can impact the largest number of people, you’ve got to figure out who you want to get the book.
Q: Have you done that?
Q: What’s the answer to that?
BG: The answer is yes I have. The book is published through a company called Author House in Indiana.
Q: I’m very familiar with them.
BG: You are?
Q: Oh, yeah.
BG: And they are fantastic. They have treated me extremely well and I am part, right now, of the extended promotion. The press release for the book, which is also on the website, you can read it or Google it, has been sent to every major book realtor in the Hartford, Boston and Providence area, and then I’ve just completed the second tier of that, which is sending the press release to five new areas. I targeted, in answer to your question, specifically populations with a high senior citizen population; Orlando, Florida, Tampa, Florida, St. Petersburg, Florida and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where Nana came from. The press release has gone to all those outlets as well, and that actually went out about a week or two ago. So, I got a request for a radio interview that I’m doing next week and a book signing that I did a few weeks ago at Barnes and Noble in Bellingham, which is — it’s extraordinary. It’s very humbling but it’s absolutely extraordinary. I’m trying to promote it also with the website, telling people about it and really trying to do a lot of Internet promotion. This is not a book you’re going to find in every Barnes and Noble or Borders but it’s very available across the internet, and I’m hoping they’ll get it into stores later.
Q: It takes a lot for an Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and Wal-Mart to really get interested in the book.
Q: OK. One thing that you may want to do is think about book fairs, by the way. There’s one in Frankfurt, Germany.
BG: (Laughs) I don’t travel that far.
Q: You don’t have to, you send the book.
Q: You just stay right here.
Q: And there’s one in Beijing, China. You send the book and they put it there.
BG: And they’ll put it at the book fair?
Q: They have a book fair, it started last year for the first time ever.
BG: That’s great.
Q: There’s one going on in Washington, D.C. in a couple of weeks. Whether you can get in on that one or not. Look up in Google, look for the words combined exhibit.
BG: Combined exhibit?
BG: OK. You know, I think I’m familiar with that. I’ll have to check that out.
Q: And that could help. Again, you have to consider — you’ve already started what is known as a niche market.
Q: One of the niches is Nova Scotia.
BG: Certainly, yeah.
Q: This is all you as compared to somebody else trying to promote a book.
Q: OK? But you might think of libraries, and the library is a big market, and you think of libraries because, you know, a lot of seniors read and that’s part of your niche market, is seniors. Also, if you can think of the right promo, you could go to what is called the baby boomers. That’s why I say, lessons to be learned and then list them and get direct mail somehow to somebody somehow.
BG: There’s a lot of options for that, for direct mail. Absolutely.
Q: And then say, this book will help some of your thinking along that. Well, OK. What I want to do now is — we’re heading towards the finish line.
BG: It went by fast.
Q: It did go by fast.
BG: Very fast.
Q: It always seems to. One hour goes really fast.
BG: You’ve made it easy.
Q: I’d like you to think of what you may want to lay on the table as really key things that you want somebody seeing this show to walk away with. Then, I’ll summarize it and we’ll call the show because we’re getting to that point where we must have about five minutes or less of the show.
BG: There’s people frantically waving above my head or something?
Q: Not yet, not yet. (laughs)
BG: I think that people watching the show, first of all, I’m enormously grateful for all of this. This has been extraordinary because my initial intention was I wrote this for myself. This evolved into a book. This was just a file on the computer of memories of Nana, and it evolved into that. When it became something, when I started reading Tuesdays with Morrie or other books like that, that talked about you know, cherishing someone, especially someone older, and the words of Jack Authelet, I wanted to get that book out there. I would just say the book itself, it’s an easy read. It’s about 180 pages but it’s a story that — I actually — I read the book a couple of weeks ago on the commuter rail over a couple of days back and forth from Boston, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it as a reader. I enjoyed it as — obviously, I’m extremely familiar with it but I enjoyed it as a reader and I would hope that people will find it. I hope that people will check it out and buy it. It is at Borden Library, I gave them a copy, but I hope that people will check it out because I think this book — I think that either you’ll see some of yourself in it or some of your life situation or it might be just that little tickle in the brain or the kick in the pants to say you know, your grandfather or your grandmother is not going to around forever. You better start cherishing them now. There are too many things that I think go unsaid and I think too many people — another friend of mine just lost someone very young and she told me that you know, she wish she’d told him such and such or whatever, but she told him all those things and you need to do that. So I think that’s what I would leave it with, is I hope you will enjoy the book. The feedback is tremendously important. Some people, I think have read the book and I haven’t heard back from them and if you didn’t like the book, tell me. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. I want to know. I mean, I’ve had people approach me and say, I completely disagree with what you wrote in the Reporter last week. Well that’s wonderful because — well it’s not wonderful — but it’s good because it means that they read it, and it sparked something in them. Conversation is wonderful, a healthy debate is wonderful, and I would just — even if you didn’t like it, tell me why, or if you found a truth in there or if it changed your life in some way, tell me. I want to know, I really do. You know, people say, when’s the next one coming out? Well this one took about five years to write and quite some more time to publish so keep reading the Reporter because that’s about all the writing for a while. Check out nanagillisbook.com and there’s links there to other websites — I have with my writing on there and also Charlie, before we go too, I have to put in one other plug because I didn’t put it in earlier. The Doolittle Home, we had the auction here a couple of weeks ago.
BG: I plugged everyone else, including Primos. I have to plug the Doolittle Home. They are wonderful. I wish when Nana was alive, I was living in Foxboro and was in a position for her to go there. Doolittle Home is a fantastic place doing a lot of good in Foxboro. They have a website too, it’s doolittle-home.org, spelled exactly like that. Check that out. Jack Authelet told me that he’s got some first contacts from people whose first experience with Doolittle was that website. So check it out. I have to plug Doolittle because if I don’t, in a book about a senior citizen, if I don’t talk about Doolittle, I’m going to get hit in the head by Jack Authelet. I know, I need to —
Q: OK. That’s our show. Thank you very much for tuning in. I for one am going to look forward to reading about Nana. Thank you very much for being with us.
BG: Charlie, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Q: It’s good, it’s good.
(END OF TAPE)
(This transcript was prepared by the TAPE TRANSCRIPTION CENTER, 129 Tremont Street Boston, 1-617-423-2151, http://www.ttctranscriptions.com/. Their prices are very reasonable and their service is FAST. I HIGHLY recommend them