Mention the cost of home utilities and Helen Samartzopulos throws up her arms in mock horror. She asks: "What are you going to do? You've got to have them."
Mention the cost of groceries and she says she passes up a lot of things she would like to eat. "You have to. You have to," she says emphatically.
She is petite and gentle. She is bright and quick to respond. Her English is good, though her accent is tinged by a language she learned in her childhood so many years ago.
She has seen a lot of life come and go in Alexandria. It was 73 years ago, in 1905, when she arrived - a 15-year-old girl from a small village in Greece. She will be 89 next month.
There were no autos. The streets were largely mud. The house she lived in had no running water and no central heat.
Someone asked how she liked life here and she replied: "I don't see anything different from what I left at home."
Today her sole source of steady income is a Social Security check of $280 a month - recently increased from $265. Like many elderly Virginians, Samartzopulos finds that despite careful budgeting, she still is forced to dip into savings from time to time.
Her biggest expenses are food and medicine. She estimates that she sometimes gets by, for both, for $100 a month. She has to eat dietary food, and for that she often pays a premium.
Then there are clothes, doctor bills, utility bills and property taxes on the home she owns free and clear. The neat brick bungalow sits on a quiet side street a few minutes drive from the Masonic Memorial facing King Street.
Two programs for senior citizens have been vital to her. The city forgives more than $500 a year of her property texas, leaving a bit over $200 to pay. And Senior Citizens Employment and Services, a nonprofit corporation, sent her a $250 check last winter to help with the cost of fuel oil, followed up recently by another $250. The two checks paid about two-thirds of her heating costs.
"Thank God for that," she said. "Otherwise, we wouldn't make it."
Her husband died in October 1976. Earlier this year, when she was hospitalized for a cataract operation, disaster struck.A burglar entered her home and stole valuables, including jewelry and sterling, worth about $5,000. Her insurance policy reimbursed her for only $500.
She had an operation for cancer in 1951 and another operation, not cancer-related, in 1961. Arthritis bothers her now. Medicare helps on bills, she notes.
She gives "as much as I can" in cash to her church, but her contribution in time and effort is sizable.
The church is St. Katherine's Greek Orthodox Church of Northern Virginia at Glen Carlyn Road and 5th Street South in Falls Church. Last March, its board of trustees gave her a bronze plaque citing her for "outstanding and dedicated service." In 1963, her husband Anthony received a plaque on which is mounted the golden key that unlocked the church doors for the first service.
Recently she put in two consecutive 15-hour days, selling potted plants she raised for benefit of the church bazaar. She used to do needlework and sell it at the bazaars, but her eyes are not good enough for that now. She donates not only her work but also the cost of materials.
She had received $60 a month from renting a room to another woman. Then Samartzopulos became ill and her two sons worked out an arrangement with the woman to use the room rent-free and also receive a salary for caring for their mother. The woman, who is now visiting Greece, on her return will probably seek an outside job to earn more income. If she gets it, says Samartzopulos, the $60 rent will have to be resumed.
Samartzopulos has nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Her eyes sparkle at mention of the sweet Greek delicacy known as baklava. She used to make it a lot, she says, but now does not since she can't eat it.
They also sparkle when a visitor thanks her for her time and notes how much she seems to enjoy life. She says.
"Well, I had a good husband. I have good children. I have good grandchildren. Why not?"