BREWER, Maine — Francis Marcelonis has lots of reasons to celebrate this Christmas Day — 100 of them to be exact.
“Tomorrow is Christmas and I will be 100 years old,” Marcelonis said Monday, on the eve of her 100th birthday. It’s a milestone few people live long enough to reach.
The festivities, however, actually began on Christmas Eve, when Marcelonis — who lives with family in Brewer — went for a ride to look at Christmas lights. Then came a birthday party with family and a birthday cake — vanilla with vanilla frosting. There also have been cards and letters from family who couldn’t be here in person.
Christmas Day plans include opening presents with family at home and then heading to a local restaurant for lunch with friends, according to Steve and Valerie Alekshun of Brewer, Marcelonis’ grandson and granddaughter-in-law.
“Fran came to live with us about nine years ago. We were hoping that we’d get her to 100 and she’s healthy and she’s happy so that’s a reason to celebrate,” Valerie Alekshun said this week.
Marcelonis came to live with the Alekshuns and their children Caitlyn, 17, 14-year-old Doug and Kenny, who is 9, nearly nine years ago.
During an interview in the family’s Day Road home, Marcelonis — nicknamed “GG” by her great grandchildren — said that both birthdays and Christmas are marked very differently today than they were when she was a girl living on a farm in western Massachusetts with her Lithuania-born parents, three sisters and four brothers. Her father worked in a match factory and the family raised its own meat and grew its own vegetables, she said.
While birthdays were observed, birthday gifts were not typical in her family.
“They’d just spank how old you are — no gifts,” Marcelonis recalled with a chuckle. In fact, she said, her birthday sometimes was overlooked for a few days because it got lost in the hubbub of the holiday season.
Christmas also was a simple affair.
“We had a tree that had real candles on the outside branches,” she said. She and her family went to church. Though there were no stocking stuffed with toys, there was roast goose and all the fixings on the table.
“When she was child, they didn’t do much to celebrate Christmas or her birthday,” Valerie Alekshun said. “It was a different time so we like to do both and separate them. So we celebrate her birthday on Christmas Eve and we make a big deal about her on Christmas Day as well.”
Life for children in general also was very different in the early 1900s.
Marcelonis had to walk two miles to get to the trolley that took her to school. She recalled the day she got stuck in a snowbank while walking home from school and remained there until her mother came looking for her after she failed to show up at home at the expected time.
She also left school at the age of 14 to work in some of the hundreds of factories that once operated in New England — including one that made celluloid combs. Because working in the mills then was so dangerous, her mother found her a safer job.
At 100, Marcelonis looks back on a life filled with great change and good fortune interwoven with sadness.
She raised three children and outlived two husbands and all but two of her nine siblings. Her family has expanded to include six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
She lived through the World Wars and several others, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great Depression, Steve Alekshun said. She has witnessed the arrival of automobiles and airplanes and the birth of such modern conveniences as the telephone, television and computers.
She survived being struck by lightning twice and being gored by a cow when she a child, he said.
Asked why she thinks she has made it to the century mark, Marcelonis said, “Just lived right, I guess.”
Her grandson noted that she’s not a smoker or heavy drinker — with the exception of water, which she drinks with every meal. Valerie Alekshun said Marcelonis also drinks prune and cranberry juices and has a spoonful of molasses on a daily basis.
“I think it amazes her that she’s going to be 100,” Steve Alekshun said. “She’s definitely showing her age but she still manages to do a lot on her own. It’s amazing to see what she can do at her age.
“She amazes us [in that] every day she gets up and makes her own breakfast and she just carries on,” he said, adding that his grandmother goes out to lunch weekly, reads the newspaper, does puzzles and plays a mean game of Pitch.
Added Valerie Alekshun: “I don’t think she feels 100. She certainly doesn’t act 100 or look 100. She’s got more in her. She’s amazing. We’re real happy that she’s made it and we’re hoping for more years.”