Tarrytown's Kitty Geissler must be the most upbeat centenarian you’re likely to meet. She has her strong opinions, but most of them life-affirming, rather than denying.
When I kept plying Geissler for secrets on longevity, she offered not much. She doesn’t like to walk, or exercise in any way for that matter. She smoked “for many years.” She likes an occasional Seagrams 7 and soda, however she doesn’t go for the soda bread.
She is one for regularlity. She eats three meals a day with nothing much in between, save for perhaps the yogurt that she loves. The meals, which she still cooks (she even cooked Thanksgiving for around 20 people this year), is mainly “meat and potatoes” type fare.
She drives to mass every day at Transfiguration, though not much further, and she regularly attends Tarrytown Seniors and Irish organization events.
Geissler took a while to join the local senior group, not until recently actually, because she didn’t think she was “old enough.” And she's no fan of BINGO.
Geissler's lived in Tarrytown since 1945, where she raised her kids and had no trouble making friends and building community. She was just inducted into the county's Senior Citizen Hall of Fame. Seventeen years ago she was the Grand Marshall of the first Sleepy Hollow St. Patrick's Day parade, as she was last year and will be this year. She will ride again in a Buick dating back to her birth year, 1912.
The duties of Grand Marshall involve waving, getting a ride, getting waited on, enjoying a dinner dance, "if you call it dancing," she joked.
Dancing is something that figures prominently in Geissler's memories. Dancing used to be her main form of entertainment and she would travel all over for the dances, mostly with Hibernian Society groups around the county and as far as the Rockaways. Dances would be on weeknights then – there was no TV after all.
Those were more social times perhaps. Geissler said she doesn’t regret not adapting to our present era and learning how to use a computer or a cell phone. “Wastes time,” she said, sitting on a couch in her Grove Street living room, surrounded by rows of framed family photos.
She considers herself lucky to have such a close family, though friends are harder to find these days – “they’re all gone.” Geissler lives with her daughter Alice Koraca and granddaughter Suzanne in the same house she's lived in here since 1950. Her other daughter Mary also lives in Tarrytown.
Popping in during my visit were grandson Ivan Koraca and his young kids, Maggie and Owen, who live in the Webber Park neighborhood. Her living room is as lively as ever.
The family welcomed nine new greatchildren in 2012 alone. “They are increasing by the minute,” Geissler joked.
She seems to have always have faced life with laughter, a good spirit and full sense of fun. Even when Geissler launched off on a cruise ship, the Balkin, from her home in County Limerick to America with her 15-year-old brother when she was only 17, “I had so much fun on the boat, I didn’t want it to end.” Her brother never did stay here long, while she has only returned to Ireland to visit.
There’s a painting of that very boat she arrived on, docked in New York City harbor, that a relative gave her recently. She is standing before the boat on the dock, eager to embark on her American journey.
Her daughter Alice presents me with a whole bound timeline of her mother’s eventful life, starting with her birth (she was named Katherine Mary Bagnelland has been called Kitty every since) — the same year the Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic.
Geissler spent some years in Mahattan – seven or eight – working as a nanny, though she didn’t call it that at the time, when she first lived with her aunt. Then she found another family to work for in Pleasantville. It was in Pleasantville that she met her husband, George, who ran a garage.
“The most he would ever pay for a car is $5 and fix it up,” Alice said.
George tried to teach Kitty to drive "but that might have been the end of us," Geissler said, so he hired someone to finish the job.
George got a job in Tarrytown as a mechanic where Honda now is, then Rushnick Pontiac, and they moved to an apartment here. Five years later, they bought the house on historic Grove Street. "We've had good times in this house," she said, recounting rolling up the rugs for "lots of parties in the living room."
Her life has spanned many Popes, many Presidents. She was around for the introduction of "The Star Bangled Banner" (1931), the completion of the Empire State Building (1931), the end of Prohibition (1933), the invention of plastic (1937)...and that's just the '30s.
The later you get in her timeline the more kids and grandkids take over from the national events. Geissler had three kids but lost her son George in the '80s, the same decade her husband predeceased her. "Everyone I knew are all gone."
Well not quite. For her 100th birthday bash, over 100 friends and relatives gathered in her honor at the Riverview in Hastings. They hailed from all over the world, from Ireland to Barbados, Florida, England, Boston and a "few even from here," she laughed. The Kitty Kelly band played for her.
For Geissler to survive this long never crossed her mind, she said but she seems to figure why stop now? There’s not a thing wrong with her health, she has her hearing and memory...so many memories.
She does wonder however if she’ll live to see the next Tappan Zee Bridge get built.
“Seems like just the other day they were building it.”