As the 20th century draws to a close, few people can make the claim that Mary Swann Thomas can make.
Once the new millennium begins, the Newburg woman will have seen all of one century--and parts of two others.
Thomas was born on Aug. 2, 1897, during the administration of President William McKinley. It had been just 32 years since the end of the Civil War. It would be another six years before the Wright brothers' historic flight.
As Thomas, 102, reviews her long life, she draws upon deep reserves of humor and pride.
"I used to wonder about what it feels like to be old, and now I know. I feel about 30," she said in the small frame house that is her home in southern Charles County.
Thomas recalls a Charles County of dirt roads and small, tight-knit rural communities. When she was 13 years old, the county's population stood at 16,386--less than one-seventh its population today.
"I remember when I used to live in an old log cabin house with a dirt floor," Thomas said.
Thomas was the seventh and last child born to her parents. She said her father, Aloysius Swann, was a farmer, and her mother, Emily Mary Hilton, worked as a domestic servant.
As a child Thomas captured frogs from a pond near her house. A man would buy them for 25 cents apiece.
"Then you could buy a box of oatmeal for 25 cents," Thomas said. "Things was cheap. Everything was cheap."
However, she said, "There was very little stuff we bought. We grew our own. We were farmers."
Thomas went to school in Charles County through the sixth grade--the top grade at the time, she said, in her community's segregated one-room school.
But she kept going to school, attending sixth grade for three years before her parents sent her to Washington to live with an older brother and enroll in school there, Thomas said.
But that quickly ended. Her mother fell ill, and Thomas was called home to help tend to her and the home.
She has mixed emotions about the abrupt end to her education.
"I was smart," she said. "The [local] priest told my parents they ought never have taken me out of school. I was smart."
She turned to work as a house cleaner and a cook, and met and married her first husband, Walter Hill. He was a sharecropper, working for "one-third of the crop."
Together they had 10 children. But Walter Hill died in 1940, after they'd been together more than 20 years, she said. In 1946, she said, she married her second husband, Walter Thomas. The couple had one child together, she said. He is still alive, but the couple lives separately, Thomas said.
She recalled the crisis brought on by being widowed in 1940.
"I built this house by my lone self after I lost my husband," she said. "I worked to have a home for my children--my 10 children."
She said she went to the Red Cross seeking a relief check and got one--for $60. Later the relief agency gave her a check for $175, Thomas said.
"I knew what to do . . . . Get a home for my children. And I did it."
First she bought six acres--for a price she still remembers.
"Fifty dollars an acre," Thomas recalls. "I said, I got six acres of land--so proud! But I've got no house to put on it."
By then the school she had attended as a child had been condemned. She bought the building for $40 and used its lumber to build the house where she still lives.
These days grandchildren and great-grandchildren come to visit in the small frame house. On weekends when the family gathers, Thomas still wins hands of a card game called Tunk.
The gatherings are testament to what she thinks of as her greatest achievement, her children. She had four boys and seven girls.
"I tell you the truth--I've got the best children around here, if I say so myself," Thomas said. "I sent them to school. They're confirmed. They go to church every Sunday--even now."
CAPTION: Playing bingo at La Plata's Clark Senior Center, above, or cards at home with family have helped Mary Swann Thomas, 102, usher in a third century to experience.