Meeting Mary Gauci in her tiny home in Għajnsielem makes you wonder whether she really turned 100 last week. She looks more like 85.

The Gozitan centenarian lives in a small house sandwiched between two larger houses on a quiet street.

She does grocery shopping on her own, cooks every day, sweeps and cleans the house, washes and hangs clothes, uses a mobile phone to make calls, does not use a walking stick and climbs up and down a companion ladder that leads to her roof.

She takes things more slowly nowadays, she has no illnesses, loves to eat cakes and sweets, occasionally drinks alcohol, watches game shows on television, follows the news and has a lucid memory and clear mind.

Mary Gauci is up and about, living almost independently. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

“I have no idea how I’m still alive, I genuinely don’t,” she told Times of Malta in her kitchen, shortly after she had finished cooking spaghetti with meat sauce for lunch.

She had made sure she bought fresh fish and vegetables early that morning so she would have her meal prepared before the interview.

She has never smoked or eaten junk food but neither has she bothered to exercise or do some special diet.

Mary is not your typical nostalgic older woman. Photo: Karl Andrew MicallefMary is not your typical nostalgic older woman. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

“I won’t say no to a good pastry and I do take the occasional Bailey’s or vermouth,” she said.

Neither is she care-free. On the contrary, she admits she is a big worrier.

“But I don’t feel like I’m 100, and all I can say for that is ‘thank you Lord’. Other than that, I don’t know how I made it this far.”

Well, for starters, Mary never got married.

At least 14 men would have given anything to marry her, she insists, but she lived with her aunt at the time – who was like a mother to her – and she did not want to abandon her.

She did fancy a couple of them and her aunt urged her to marry. A couple of men wanted her so badly they even offered to bring her aunt along to live with them, but Mary would not budge.

She does not regret the decision and does not feel she missed out on life by not having children, although she does confess to feeling lonely at times.

Mary had just cooked spaghetti with meat sauce for lunch. Photo: Karl Andrew MicallefMary had just cooked spaghetti with meat sauce for lunch. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

“But prayer consoles me. I pray to God and the Holy Mary and I feel better.

“And God hasn’t left me alone either, because I have friends and neighbours constantly coming to see me and help me. They spend hours here every day and I’m eternally grateful to them.”

One of those neighbours is Ċikka, who accompanied Mary for the first part of the interview but left after her 100-year-old friend reminded her she had an appointment.

When Mary turned 100 on January 17, Ċikka and their other neighbours organised a surprise party for her, despite her warnings that she did not want anyone to know about the big day.

“I just wanted to stay at home, watch the mass on TV and thank the Lord here. But they did it anyway and I ended up loving it,” she said.

“I cried with joy seeing all those people surrounding me and congratulating me. I really didn’t expect it would be so wonderful.”

Gauci was born in the UK to a British mother and Gozitan father. At five she travelled to Gozo to visit her aunt – supposedly for a year – and stayed. She returned to the UK for a holiday 50 years later.

Her younger sister Gloria – now well into her 80s – still lives in the UK and visits frequently. She was at the party, of course.

A young Mary GauciA young Mary Gauci

Mary and Gloria are the only remaining siblings from a family of 14 and most of her friends have also passed away.

Mary would not say she had a particularly tough life. Even during the war, she and her aunt always had food because Mary had found a job at a nearby bakery and brought home fresh bread every day.

A bomb almost killed her aunt one day.

“I was at church when we heard the airplane approaching. We knew it was a war plane. As I was walking back home I heard a huge explosion that seemed to come from the street where we lived,” she said.

Mary never accepted to marry so she could keep living with her aunt to take care of her. Photo: Karl Andrew MicallefMary never accepted to marry so she could keep living with her aunt to take care of her. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

“I was sure a bomb had been dropped on our house and that I would find my aunt dead. She was sick at home that day.”

Mary ran home and the bomb had come down a few doors up the road, killing five people.

Mary is not your typical nostalgic older woman. She does recall a Gozo with no cars and few houses but it was not necessarily a better place.

“Life was hard, you know. You couldn’t do a lot of things and it was hard to go to many places. Great improvements have been made and I think Gozo is better now,” she said.

“What I’m really worried and frustrated about is the way morality, religion and the Church have taken a hit.”

That is the only thing Mary is nostalgic for. She cannot bear to see people abandoning the Church and its Catholic values. She furiously followed the abortion debate last year, in disbelief at how the country could even consider legalising it.

She loves life but is not too bothered about living much longer. It’s up to the guy upstairs, she says. She prays every day to secure a place in heaven.

Until then, she spends her days serenely at home. She wakes up at 6.30am every morning, says a short prayer and prepares tea, cappuccino or hot chocolate. She loves tea but does not like coffee.

Mary walks and climbs a ladder without anything to support her. Photo: Karl Andrew MicallefMary walks and climbs a ladder without anything to support her. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

By noon she has usually cooked, cleaned the house, washed the clothes and spent time with her neighbours. After lunch she takes a nap, then recites the rosary, does some more chores, prepares dinner, sips on an evening tea and helps herself to a fruit while watching game shows on Italian TV. The day ends with another prayer.

Her advice on living a long, happy life is simple: “Live a good life, be careful of everything that is bad around you and take care of your health. And oh, always say the rosary.”

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