By Carter Ottele

Gladys Pillsbury has had enough of your bullshit.

“I’m tired of people perceiving me like a relic,” says Gladys in a quiet, husky voice, with a twang that reveals her rural North Carolina upbringing. “I might be old, but I can still participate in lots of activities. And my mind is sharper than a wild boar’s tusk.”

For this year’s B&S senior interview, I spoke with Gladys in her home: a cluttered but comfy apartment in the Mayflower Community. Allergic to most pets and widowed for 22 years, Gladys lives on her own. She insisted, though, that she never grows lonely.

“It’s a community. I live with all sorts of exciting, engaging, titillating characters—yes, I know what that word means. There’s Raymond and Phyllis next door, and they’re always a great time. Phyllis makes this spiked prune juice that is just lovely. Then the next morning, I tend to wake up in the oddest of places: Broad Street, the Old Glove Factory, once even in Mitchellville.

“Or my dear friend Eugene. Eugene can maintain a stiffie for hours. And it’s quite the pocket rocket, too. If I ever feel a tinge of desire for permanent male companionship, I show up at Eugene’s place dressed up in my flapper outfit. Afterward, I remember how content I am with the friends-with-benefits situation.”

Before moving to Grinnell, Gladys considered herself “something of a globetrotter.” She left North Carolina to attend school in the United Kingdom. She graduated from the Marlow School of Topiary Arts at Oxford, then planned to return to the United States and work as a landscape designer in the recently-established state of Arizona.

However, Gladys accidentally boarded the wrong steam ship and found herself in the Maldives instead. To save money for another ticket, she worked an assortment of jobs, including as a dock hand, a sea cucumber farmer, and a sex therapist. But she found her true love in cornhole.

“There’s nothing in the world like it,” Gladys reminisces. “The grainy yet delicate sensation of sand through fabric, the ecstatic swoosh of the bag falling through the hole…I played a few times, and I knew that I wanted to pursue it as my life goal. So once I had the money, I moved to Argentina and entered a competitive league.”

Gladys stands up and walks me through her awards. A towering trophy from her runner-up placement in the 1952 Brazilian National Championships; a gleaming medallion for a perfect game in 1957; an ironic depiction of corn-on-the-cob with a bullet hole through it, from qualifying for the 1960 World Duo’s Tournament. She is obviously proud of her accomplishments, but I sense something sad in her gait.

“Those were the glory days,” she tells me. “But all beautiful things fade with time. After I lost my right hand during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I could never return to the sport.”

Instead, she returned to the US and met her now-deceased husband, Melvin Pillsbury, a charming young man with a dry sense of humor and a foot fetish. Melvin and Gladys spent almost forty years together in Tallahassee, Florida. Melvin taught math at Tallahassee Community College, while Gladys raised sea cucumbers and volunteered as a cornhole coach at the local high school. They chose not to have children.

Melvin suffered a fatal heart attack in 2001. Distraught, Gladys moved to Grinnell’s Mayflower Community. She has lived here ever since.

I ask Glady for advice she would give college students, and she takes a second to reflect.

“It’s a beautiful life,” she finally decides. “Cherish it. Nurture it. And never mix reefers with gin—shit goes downhill fast.”