Gladys Wilson, 82, of Piney Chapel knows a little about life. On any given day, except Saturdays when she attends church, she will most likely be spotted tending to a number of flowers at her home on Bean Road.
Her story is one of triumph. One she believes might give others, especially young people, a sense of hope and encouragement.
Gladys was 13 years old when her father abandoned the family including her mom and four children. The abandonment meant she had to quit school in the seventh grade to tend to her three younger siblings. The youngest was 3 1/2 months old.
“This was 1943 during World War II,” Gladys said. “At the time, the only thing I wanted — I just loved school — was an education and music.”
She had recently been introduced to the piano. However, when her father left, playing the piano was no longer an option.
Her mother was working 16 hours a day to make ends meet, which left Gladys tending to life at home. “I did that until I was 15,” she said.
She started working at a little restaurant in Limestone County and met her soon-to-be husband. “He was right out of the Navy,” she said. “I didn’t know him.”
Six weeks later, Gladys and Budgie Wilson were married. The couple stayed married 66 years until his death due to Alzheimer’s disease.
“We told people it was when two fools met,” Gladys joked. “He didn’t want to live with mom and dad after getting back from the Navy and I was tired of washing, ironing and cooking for three kids.”
Gladys and Budgie, who she said was a loving, humorous man, had two children, Larry and Linda.
“I always stayed in books,” Gladys said of her time raising a family. “I would buy booklets at the store about math and English and so forth. I sort of taught myself.”
At age 28, Gladys, who had never been outside of home life, took her GED test.
Later, her friend Jean Johnson, a registered nurse, was instrumental in talking her into taking an LPN course at Calhoun Community College. Gladys went on to work at a hospital in Decatur for a year and then worked at Athens-Limestone Hospital for four years.
That was when Jean talked her into taking a beauty school course and offered it to her for half price. “So after four years at the hospital, I took the course,” Gladys said. “There was no beauty shop anywhere around Piney Chapel.” It was the perfect opportunity, according to Gladys. She and Budgie bought a home and converted the carport into a beauty shop where she worked for three more years.
Gladys said the whole time her children were getting the education and music she didn’t get the opportunity to receive at their age. She said she also told them when they turned 11 years old, “No more teenage marriages.”
“It had been three generations of teenage marriages on my mom’s side,” she said. “They never fussed about it. Both of my children were 21 when they married.” Gladys said her children got everything she wanted.
Life begins at 40
Gladys recalled telling everyone that if she lived to be age 40, they were going to have a party. “So when I got 40 years old, I hired a band,” she said. “Billie Sue Whitt helped prepare all this and make a cake. The whole party was centered around ‘Life begins at 40.’”
It wasn’t long before Gladys' party theme shaped her own life. Her husband was retiring and her kids were out of school, so Gladys decided to stay home and run a day care. She ran the day care for almost nine years.
“I guess I’m a jack of all trades,” she joked.
It was age 70 when Gladys said she really retired. “I said to myself now what can a fat lady do,” she said with a grin. “At 70, I started a flower garden with the help of five other flower friends. Now I’m into my 12th year and, oh, it is gorgeous.”
Gladys said during life’s trials, she has always tried to stay happy and never look back.
“All these experiences that have happened to me in my life I have counted as stepping stones,” she said. “For young people — if they have their mind set — nothing is impossible.” That is what Gladys wants young people to understand as they journey into the real world.
She added so many young people today don’t have any hope or any health. “My heart just goes out to them,” she said.
Today, Gladys hopes to encourage others. She invites others to her home where she sells flowers and shares life’s lessons. “Now, I’m just a happy old woman,” she said,