UNCLE CHARLIE AND UNCLE TOMMY
GILLON'S MAIN SQUEEZE
By Jacqueline Larson The McAllenMonitor
MISSION--The leather bellows of an octagonal concertina
contract like a large, harmonious caterpillar, as Charlie Gillon's 85-year-old
fingers slip deftly over silver buttons to crank out "Someone to Watch Over
Me" and "Tea for Two."
A veteran of vaudeville musical comedies of flapper-era Detroit, the former power plant engineer has always found concertina music to be a profitable sideline.
The bouncy trademark tune of yet another youthful oldster, George Burns, seems to capture Gillon's zest for living: "I love life, I want to do it again," he sings with animation. Later, he belts out a sly parody: "I left my wife in San Francisco."
Gillon appreciates the sophisticated note combinations that make him and his concertina a one-man band. "That's what I like," he says with characteristic bias for the instrument he plays, "you can't go out and play a fiddle or a sax by itself. And you can play anytime, anywhere. His enduring tunes and curious instrument fascinated young and old at a recent performance at the McAllen International Museum.
While some concertinians play only polkas, Gillon plays the musical spectrum from mock bagpipes to street baroque. His rendition of La Vie en Rose would be right at home with a loaf of bread and a jug of vin at some outdoor cafe on the Left Bank in Paris
The gleaming concertina was given to Scottish-born Gillon in 1918. Crafted in 1914 by Wheatstone and Company in London, the rare squeezebox shows signs of careful maintenance.
The silver, ebony and leather reed instrument compacts to fit in a smallish hatbox. Unlike it bulky cousin, the accordian, the concertina (Gillon's is a soprano) has no ready-made chord keys, its music keyed to violin music or the top scale of the piano.
While in his seventies, Gillon married JoAnn and became the instant father of two, grandfather of seven, and great-grandfather of seven. The two live year round in Bentsen Grove Trailer Park and visit the clan in San Antonio now and then.
Now in retirement, with talent and the time to practice, he plays community concerts at church and for mobile home park socials. Gillon is hoping a young relative will take up the instrument he's mastered over the span of 73 years..
JoAnn and Charlie Gillon
Charles Gillon: 1905 - 2000
JoAnn McNair: 1922-2005
Agnes and Tom Gillon
FIRST TO ARRIVE --LAST TO LEAVE
by Tom Gillon
In December of 1939 I first set eyes on Southern
California, December at that. The smell off the orange groves driving in
from the East was especially pleasant--also thinking that I might have to
survive on an orange diet during those pre-WW2days.
I managed to connect with a company I had been employed by in Detroit, Michigan, but as the job depended a lot on the weather and as it rained for an entire 7-day week, I had to be patient and a little hungry.
Agnes arrived in June form Michigan and Southern California looked great at this point. We were married on Wilshire Boulevard on a Saturday morning so her friends could return by train to Michigan as they were on vacation.
Life was the very best then, 1940-1941. We both worked and drove to Michigan each year before Pearl harborn, December, 1941. I received the "Greetings" from FDR and registered for the draft and entered the Army in April, 1943, and Agnes then went to work for Douglas Aircraft, a six-day a week job, and she found a house on the beach in Venice.
The first 14 months I stayed around within 150 miles and managed to hitchhike back and forth if I had a pass at the weekend. Prior to that we had written a long letter to sister Flo (Agnes's sister) in New York and probably influenced her and Archie to come to southern California, which they did with daughter Mary and new baby Flora.
The 30months following were not the best by any means, for anyone in the US, worse for other countries.
When I was transferred to Penn State College and then to Indiantown Gap, Agnes moved back to Michigan, staying at her sister Jean's as did her mother. She worked in defense there too, coming home after midnight. Her mother always had a cup of tea ready.
We returned after October 1, 1945 after my discharge and found Los Angeles had taken a turn for the worse---lots of people and autos and no place to live by ourselves for almost three years.
Alec and Margaret then moved out around that time to Redlands, and then LA, and when sister Jean divorced, she also came out with her new husband. At that point Ma Pate was very much dependent on her family. During her strokes we moved four times in Inglewood so we could continue working and take care of her. Agnes stayed right with her mother until the final day; in fact, she was in the ambulance with her at the end, on the way to the hospital. In the next few years, many of the Pate family passed away.
Agnes had strokes in 1980, 1985, and in March 1989 the third one was devastating, but she held on until May 16, 1990....a wonderful person!
Thomas Gillon 1908-1994
Agnes Burns Pate 1906-1990
NOTE: Tom was also a wonderful musician, a violinist, being inspired by his father, Charles Gillon. It was the talent of my two uncles, Tom and Charlie, that motivated me to take up the violin. I majored in music at Michigan State University, have taught violin, and have enjoyed many music groups over the years. I have enjoyed the "jam sessions" that I have had with Charlie and Tom when we have been together here in Utah. I can see how much music meant in their lives and it certainly has in mine. I have been proud to continue the Gillon music, and I hope that another Gillon will descendant will carry on this tradition. (Barbara McClelland Lewis)
I have gotten to know my cousin, Rob Gillon, son of Tony and Julie Gillon, who live in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. I have visited with him in his home and have heard him play the piano, recognizing that he is very talented and plays very well. Rob is the last male in the family to carry on the Gillon name, and I am so pleased that he has carried on the Gillon musicianship. He is currently working in Japan, but we continue to correspond and he has promised me that he will keep this Gillon site online, should I be unable to continue.
I would like to mention that my own sons, Jeff, Rob, and Randy all play and sing in a band and truly love their music, using their talents on the guitar, keyboard, and their voices. I know that their greatgrandfather, Charles Gillon, would be pleased that they have also carried on the Gillon tradition of being musicians.