Life

“I Couldn’t Live With Anybody Who Didn’t See the Funny Part of Life”

Meet Louise Gili, age 100, from Millburn, New Jersey.

Louise Gili.
Louise Gili.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Christina Cauterucci.

Having met so many 80-plus-year-olds in possession of a bottomless well of stories and life advice, we present the series “Interview With an Old Person”—which is, well, exactly what it sounds like. To nominate yourself or an elderly person in your life, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Christina Cauterucci is Louise Gili’s great-niece.

Christina Cauterucci: What is your very first memory?

Louise Gili: My very first memory is very clear in my mind. I was a short little girl and I was reaching for a doorknob. I wanted to turn it so I could open the door and go into the next room. I remember that, so clearly.

Do you remember what the room was and why you wanted to go in?

I was trying to get from the kitchen into the dining room.

How many times have you been in love, so far?

I think twice. Once was unsuccessful. The other was successful, but he died.

Tell me about the first time you were in love.

It was a friend of the family. They decided that this Bill would make a good match, blah, blah, blah. So we went together and Bill came home from the war. Handsome man, had everything everybody could want. We were engaged for a very short time. But he didn’t have any kind of a sense of humor. I would be hysterical, and Bill would look at me like, “What are you laughing at? What’s so funny?” And finally, I thought, I couldn’t live with anybody who didn’t see the funny part of life. So I broke the engagement. Everybody thought I was really out of my mind. But I thought, Maybe I am, but it’s my life and this is what I want to do.

What about the second time you were in love?

Well, the second time it was a great guy. Had everything anybody would ever want. Good sense of humor, good position. Thoughtful, kind, gentle. Loved to go out to dinner, loved to go dancing. He wasn’t particularly the brightest star intellectually, but he had so many other great characteristics. Not too much of a sportsman, but that didn’t matter in my life. And it was very nice. But then he developed a cardiac—smoked a lot—a cardiac condition and other health problems, and I, being a nurse, I thought, This is going to be sad, but it’ll be a sadness that I’m happy to go through. But he died suddenly and that was it. And I thought, well, I had my fun, I had my life, and I don’t think anybody ever had a better love life than I did.

How old were you?

I was about 32.

If you don’t mind talking about it, what was it like for you when he died?

It was shattering, shattering. I thought, Oh, this is something I don’t know how I’m going to get through. But you get through it after a while because you have such great memories, you know? And the worst thing, after he died, was somebody holding my hand. No matter what, like, if we went to a restaurant, he’d reach for my hand. If we were crossing the street, he’d reach for my hand. Driving, he’d reach for my hand … so I knew he was there. But it can’t last forever, and I was glad that it had happened the way that it did. Because I could have married somebody that I hated or disliked.

You never fell in love again?

No. I went out with people—they weren’t as attentive. They weren’t as kind. They weren’t as interested. So it’s sad in one way and it was good in another way, because I never would have experienced all that in my life with anybody else. That’s the way I have to think about it anyway.

How did you decide to become a nurse?

Because [when my mother had tuberculosis], the nurses were in the house all the time and you know, you see the white uniforms and you idolize these people who think they’re next to God. And they were very nice to me.

Who was the first person you voted for?

Roosevelt. Oh, he was great. People don’t realize what he had done for us with Social Security. It really was a revelation.

Have there been any other politicians who you felt particularly passionate about?

Not really. I used to like Romney … but then, he’s a little too goody-goody. I couldn’t take too much of him after a while. I felt, morally, he’s good. But Roosevelt was the one that really, really had my best, best vote, even though he had that lady friend on the side. That was his business. That didn’t affect the country in any way. Maybe made him happier, so that was good for all of us.

What was your favorite age?

I think when I was about 30, 35. When I was, you know, kind of old.

That’s old?! I’m 30. I don’t think that’s old. What do you miss about being that age?

I think you come to realize what might have been or what will be and how you might change. That would be a good turning point in your life. You know what you’ve been through. You know what you’d like to do.

What kind of a turning point did you have?

Before that I thought, Well, maybe I might get married, or maybe I won’t. But then I thought, Eh, I don’t think I want to get married now. And I’d see these gals getting married, and marrying these guys, all broken down and miserable, miserable.

And [their kids] didn’t have any respect for their elders … I couldn’t put up with that nonsense. … I worked with some high school kids. [Gasps] Liars. Oh God, they were such liars. Devils, really.

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited?

I’m partial to Italy. I like their lifestyle. They don’t get too excited about anything. You know, it pleases them all well and good, and if it doesn’t they’ll have another plate of spaghetti.

Louise on the Hudson River.
Louise on the Hudson River.
Louise Gili

What advice would you give your younger self now?

Find a good love life.

Any tips?

Don’t become so absorbed in what you want. Share it with somebody else. That’s my feeling. You can’t do it alone. Not that I think I’ve missed a lot. But then, by the same token, I think—my cousin is going with a woman. He’s 93, and he has a love life. They’re both so pathetic. He doesn’t feel well. He’s helping her. She’s helping him. And I’m thinking, Fred, you didn’t need this! And I have a friend, she could not wait until her husband died. She would say, “I can’t wait until he dies.” So he died. She is so overcome with grief now.

What do you like to do for fun?

Oh, I like to be with people. I like to go out to lunch. I like to go out for dinner. I like to keep my weight down.

What has it been like to lose your vision while living on your own?

Fortunately I can order clothes from special catalogs. I don’t know whether you’ve ever heard of Apple Seeds catalog, Talbots. And I know my size. I know what fits me. I know my style.

I love the, uh, Nordstrom. That’s my favorite store. I might die in it—

You might die in Nordstrom?

[laughs] No, I might die with one of their outfits on.

What was the happiest day of your life?

Oh, jeepers. I had so many happy days. When the doctor told me that I would never become completely blind from this eye [that has macular degeneration].

I felt very secure after he told me that. That was the best thing I ever heard.

How do you use the internet, if you use the internet at all?

No, no, no. And see, another thing, I never did typing at school, so I don’t know what the letters are on the keyboard, and now when I try to look at something, I don’t know what I’m looking at. And then I get so annoyed with myself and think, Didn’t you see this coming?

What’s something that you do every single day?

I get up late now.

What’s late?

Eight o’clock.

That’s late?!

Usually I wake up about 7 o’clock. I have to know the night before what I’m gonna do the next day. So it depends if I’m going out to a meeting or a luncheon or if I’m going to stay home. But I have to know that I’m not going to get bored sitting around, thinking, Oh, I’m feeling sorry for myself today.

What are you most looking forward to right now?

A nice, happy life that I can manage. That I can keep my friends. That I have contact with people that I’ve always had contact with. That’s it. I do wish I could have a pet, but I can’t handle a pet.

Why not?

Oh, who’d walk a pet? I can hardly walk myself without walking a pet!

How can I live to be 100?

Always have a little protein with every meal.

One more thing

You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support.

Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help. If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.

Join Slate Plus
Christina Cauterucci

Christina Cauterucci is a Slate staff writer.