A few days before her 100th birthday, Annie Oakley - no relation to the Wild West sharpshooter of the same name - sat in her daughter's living room in North Arlington, wondering what all the fuss was about.
"The 100th is no different than any other one," Oakley said. She reflected a moment, then leaned forward and tapped the interviewer's arm. "There was a man over 100 who was being feted," she explained," and he said, 'All I did was get old and they can all do that in time.' Oakley sat back in her chair. "That's how I feel about it."
Oakley's children and grandchildren, as well as the members of her church - Arlington's St. Ann's - feel differently. To mark Oakley's centennial, they staged a huge celebration at St. Ann's recently that included a special mass and reception.
Other congratulatory messages had been coming almost without stop. The President and Mrs. Carter sent Oakley a special birthday card. Oakley, who has seen 20 presidents come and go during her life, wasn't as impressed by the office of the man who sent it as she was by his penmanship. "Isn't that good handwriting," she pointed out again and again when asked to show the card.
Perhaps the most special message Oakley received was the blessing sent her from Pope Paul in Rome.
Oakley was born Annie Browne in St. Johns, Newfoundland, in 1878, when Rutherford Hayes was president and the other Annie Oakley was only a young woman of 18. Her father, a stone mason and bricklayer, immigrated to Newfoundland from County Waterford, Ireland, and when Oakley talks you can still hear soft traces of the Irish brogue he handed down to her.
In 1904, Annie traveled to Seattle, Wash., to marry James Oakley, a young man who had courted her for nearly 10 years - mostly through the mail. She had met him at a regatta in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when she was 16 and he was 14.
"He was the handsomest little boy," she recalled, smiling. "I never did forget him."
The journey to Seattle from Nova Scotia was a long and arduous one in those days and not without its sacrifices. Annie could never afford the return trip and never saw her parents again. Forty years later, when her own daughter moved to Washington, D.C., Oakley was convinced she wouldn't see her again.
It wasn't until after her marriage that Oakley heard about the other Annie Oakley who had been making the name famous throughout the country with her sharpshooting. Oakley has been taking the teasing ever since.
She remembered an airplane trip to Hawaii. Once over the ocean, the pilot, who had been told of her love of airplanes, paged Oakley to come up to the cockpit.
"As I passed up the aisle, I heard someone murmur, 'I wonder where the guns are,'" she recalled.
Most of the time, though, Oakley has just ignored the comments about her name. She's had other things on her mind: seven children, 13 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. Oakley's husband died in 1940; she's been widowed longer than she was married.
And then there's been all the traveling. When she was 68, Oakley took her first plane ride.
"I made my will, said my prayers, and took off," she said. And she's been at it ever since.
For her 100th birthday party, it was Oakley's children and grandchildren who were on the planes, flying in from around the country. All her living children - three sons and two daughters - made it to the celebration, the first time they'd gathered together in 13 years.
The Most Rev. Thomas Welsh, bishop of Arlington also came, fulfilling a promise he made personally to Oakley last year.
Although everyone was asking her, Oakley's wasn't handing out any clues about how to reach 100.
"There's nothing to it," was all she would say.
But her daughter, Kathleen Maestri, with whom Oakley now lives in Arlington, thinks she may have discovered her mother's secret:
"I call it her rose-colored glasses," she said. "She only sees the good in things. Her father said she would make excuses for the devil."
Overhearing this, Oakley laughed and shook her head. "I just never noticed the passing of the years," she said.
She's still wondering what all the fuss was about.