On Friday, January 13, Gertrude Knowlton of Oak Bluffs joined the ranks of an elite group of Islanders. Having turned 100 years old, Ms. Knowlton, known as Gert to her friends, became one of only a small group of centenarians known to be living on Martha’s Vineyard.
So, how does 100 feel? “Not much different than 99,” Ms. Knowlton said in an interview at the home she shares with her daughter Rosemary Hildreth.
On Sunday, Ms. Knowlton celebrated 100 at a party in Southborough with 75 guests, who due to the exponential possibilities given her age, were all family members.
Ms. Knowlton was born in 1912 – the year that the Titanic sank and Fenway Park was erected. She has lived through two world wars, Prohibition and the Great Depression. However, due to her positive nature, her stories of her childhood and young adulthood are full of fond memories — and not recollections of hardships.
The youngest of four children, Gert (Knowlton) Pyne grew up in the area around Boston. She recalls attending silent movies on Saturdays for a nickel and hitching rides, along with her siblings, on the back of pungs — horse-drawn sleighs that were used for manual snow removal.
Ms. Knowlton was voted best dancer in her high school. She remembers adopting flapper fashion and attending dances where some of the great big bands of the day, including those led by Guy Lombardo and Rudy Vallee, performed. She explained that the term flapper came from the trend among young women of wearing overshoes – donned during wet weather – with the buttons undone which caused them to flap around their legs.
Ms. Knowlton married and her husband eventually became a district manager for the Stop and Shop corporation, overseeing 22 stores. The Depression didn’t affect the Knowlton family much, since Mr. Knowlton had a good, stable job and, being in the grocery business, food was always readily available. “We were lucky,” Ms. Knowlton said of that time in her life.
During the war, Ms. Knowlton worked at the lunch counter of a pharmacy in Milford. She raised five children, and a teenaged girl whose mother died when the girl was 13.
After the death of her husband, Ms. Knowlton moved in with her daughter Rosemary Hildreth in Southborough. The two lived together until 1990, when Ms. Hildreth’s husband died. Mother and daughter then relocated to the Vineyard, where Ms. Hildreth, now the Oak Bluffs Library’s administrative assistant, and her husband had a second home.
Ms. Knowlton has had a full life since moving to the Vineyard. At age 79 she took up watercolor painting and produced a large collection of masterful works inspired by nature — many of which adorn Ms. Hildreth’s home off County Road in Oak Bluffs. She has exhibited her work at the Agricultural Fair and the annual All Island Art Show and has sold a few paintings to friends and given away dozens to family members.
A few years ago Ms. Knowlton fell and suffered a blow to the head which required stitches. Since then, her hand has been a little shaky and she has not painted, but she said she hopes to begin again soon.
An avid reader with a predilection for thrillers, mysteries, and historical novels, Ms. Knowlton devours about two books a week. Being the mother of a library staff member allows her to grab the bestsellers as soon as they hit the library shelves.
At her birthday, Ms. Knowlton was introduced for the first time to her two most recent descendants – great great grandchildren. All in all, she has three surviving children, 13 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
Ms. Knowlton enjoys excellent health for her years. Her eyesight and hearing are unimpaired and she gets around very well. She’s perky and sharp and her memory is remarkable.
Asked the secret of old age, Mrs. Knowlton said, “My theory is age is an attitude. I’ve always paid no attention to age. I’ve always been younger than my biological age.”
In a post to Ms. Hildreth’s Facebook page following the party, grandson Mark Knowlton wrote, “You’re as old as Fenway but you look better and have uplifted more hearts than the latter has broken.”
That’s quite the testimony.