I'm sitting across the room from Mary Maxted and I'm trying to find out her secret to longevity.
After all, the woman has nearly seven decades on me and I'm catching up anytime soon.
"I didn't think I'd make it," she says, grinning as if she's keeping a joke to herself. On March 19, she and her Fifth Avenue Retirement Center neighbors celebrate her 100th birthday. "I haven't really taken good care of myself."
Born in Alameda, an island in San Francisco Bay, Maxted learned to love the sea early on, particularly behind a sail. Her father Shirley was a ship captain who sailed around the world and, in his spare time, a boat builder. He made sure she and her brother Bert were seafaring folk. She even had a small boat named for her, the "Queen Mary."
"I think I learned to swim before I could walk," she recalls.
She married a man named Al who helped construct commercial buildings and the two moved to Los Angeles, raising daughters Kathleen and Molly, and a son, Burt.
Ironically, Al wasn't much for the sea thanks to a knack for getting rather seasick.
"He did not like the water," Maxted recalls. "Dad said, 'I can't see what you can see in that landlubber.'"
But even when her family was sent to the Panama Canal Zone during World War II for Al's government work (he was helping build the Pan-American Highway), she stayed near the shore.
So it seems perfect that when Mary and Al planned a trip to Canada they took the Pacific Coast Highway that keeps the sea in sight for more than 1,500 miles. On their way to visit to Lake Louise in Alberta's Banff National Park, the Maxteds stopped in Sequim, a small, North Olympic Peninsula town with a single traffic light at the center of town. The two planned to visit friends who were having a house built in SunLand, then move on across the border.
They never made it to Canada, Mary recalls.
"If I could live on the water," she told her husband Al, she'd move. "I guess I fell in love with this place because of the water."
The two rented space in the Juan de Fuca Cottages for a spell, then bought a house on Marine Drive where they kept home for 35 years. Eventually, Maxted's family moved to Sequim, too.
Even at retirement age, she kept active, joining the local Hospital Guild that developed a popular local thrift store at Second and Bell streets decades ago; it remains Thrift Shop, Sequim-Dungeness Hospital Guild.
Al died in 1986 and Mary kept the home for another 10 years but soon she needed a smaller space. Last December, she found she needed a little help getting around as she approached her centennial birthday, so she moved to the Fifth Avenue.
"You start falling apart at my age," she says. "I can't say enough about this place."
She's even passed a bit of her love of water to her children: Kathleen, a marriage and family counselor and esthetician in Sequim, is fond of the water; Bert, a retired builder in Southern California, still surfs at age 70; and Molly, a soap-maker in Winthrop, prefers the frozen kind, as she and family can ski right out her home's back door.
I pose the hypothesis that water is the key to her longevity. Mary just smiles. She admits she isn't a big fan of birthdays. "I've had a lot of them," she says.
What about the perfect gift for someone who makes it to triple digits?