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Winter village constructed to remind us of years gone by

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GROTON — Lifelong resident Howard Gilson’s holiday expression has been made tangible through a “winter village” scene that has gradually come to overrun his Pleasant Street dining room.

“I probably started it about 25 years ago,” said Gilson, 84. “I’ve got 26 items in it now, and we started way back getting items here and there and added more each year until it developed into a regular winter village.”

Every year just before Thanksgiving, Gilson, now aided by his grandson, drags some tables together, throws some sheets over them and transforms his dining room into a winter wonderland.

“It began after I saw something similar on display and thought ‘Why don’t we get one of these things?'” said Gilson. “So I got two items, then three of them, and it went on from there.”

So far, Gilson said his pieces include houses, a windmill, lighthouse, sail boat, fire house, church, school and several figurines to populate the streets of the village.

Adding verisimilitude to the panorama are cars and trucks on roadways that wind about.

“It takes quite a while to set up because the items are all tucked away in boxes,” said Gilson. “We’ve got to bring the boxes up and arrange the tables. We cover eight tables in a cloth leaving room for a skating rink, tree farm, ski resort and skating resort. And all of those things also come with human figures.”

When completed, Gilson said the scene’s lit to give it a truly Christmassy, “winter in New England” feel.

“I pretty much follow the same set up every year,” he said. “It might change a little bit, but it remains pretty much the same. This was the first year that I didn’t buy anything new for it though. I like to have it set up in November before Thanksgiving and then leave it up until March.”

Gilson said one of the more intangible rewards of his village scene is the soothing effect it seems to have on viewers, as if its traditional scenes of bygone New England winters calms the souls of people forced to live in a world that moves at a much faster pace than it did even a few years ago.

“I just like coming in and looking at it,” said Gilson simply. “I miss it when I take it down.”

He said he’s eager to spread the joy and delight he takes in his winter village and invites anyone interested in sharing the pleasure with him to stop by see it for themselves.

“The display can be seen from outdoors in some cases, but you really have to come inside to get a full perspective,” he said.

To view the winter village call Gilson at (978) 448-2933.

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