For much of this century, the dark wooden cuckoo clock on the wall in Mary Weber's Gaithersburg living room has ticked off the minutes of her life: whirring and chiming in quarter-hour increments the passing of the 1900s.
From the November day she was born in 1909--when President William H. Taft was in the White House and Ford's Model T was just catching on--the clock ticked in the District home of her parents, who had gotten it as a wedding present.
It ticked through the 1920s, when her father taught her how to drive, and as she and a girlfriend would hand-crank the family car and motor off to high school, radicals of their time.
It ticked as she left to be married in 1933, and chimed in her absence until her widower father moved with her to Kensington in 1945.
It ticked off five more decades in two more towns, until, in the confines of her retirement apartment, it grew annoying in its relentless marking of time.
So she had it altered to sound only the hour. Now, as Weber, 90, and her husband, Raymond, 95, contemplate the century they have seen, the clock is obligingly quiet. A relief.
Nine decades, 16 presidents, four major wars, one economic depression and several cultural and technological upheavals later, the former church organist whose hands can still waltz over the keys feels blessed by this waning, tumultuous epoch.
"You just take it day by day and you realize you're moving on and on and you're phasing out this century," she said from her apartment in the Asbury Methodist Village retirement community, where the ornate clock hangs on one wall and her Baldwin electric organ stands against another. "I can't get used to it."
"I've been satisfied," she said. "I have no complaints. We were very fortunate as a country, and God's been good to us."
Indeed, as much of the world and the country weathered the bitter storms of the century's first half, Weber grew up in the safety of middle-class, Jazz-Age Washington.
Amiable, direct, possessed of a dry humor and infectious laugh, Weber--who is often known by her middle name, Leona--was one of the two children of an English immigrant and his wife, and she happily spent her childhood in the city's Petworth neighborhood.
Her father, John, was a steam engineer who, as a teenager, had immigrated to America with his family in the late 1800s. Her mother, Maglen, was from Southern Maryland and worked in the china department of a Woodward & Lothrop store. Their lives revolved around Petworth United Methodist Church at Grant Circle.
In her youth, Weber learned to play the piano, then the organ, but was drawn by the pop music of the '20s. She would haunt the local five-and-dime seeking the sheet music to the latest hits. "I thought it was all very smart," she said, though her music teachers did not.
At 16, Weber also learned how to drive, a novel idea for a woman of her day, especially one so young. Her father taught her on the grounds of the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home.
"He evidently had confidence in me," she said.
Their car, however, had to be started with a crank, and Weber, who was not strong enough to turn it, got a more robust girlfriend to help. Weber would sit at the wheel and "adjust the spark" while her friend cranked, then "away we would go."
"I was a timid soul," she said with a laugh, "but I could drive a car."
In 1933, Weber married her husband, Raymond, who was one of three brothers who had moved from rural Owego, N.Y., to join the D.C. Fire Department.
"Mr. Weber," as she affectionately calls him, would spend 30 years with the department, at one point being detailed to the White House during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1935, the couple's daughter, Mary, was born, and the family moved to a row house on Varnum Street NW. Weber said she remembers lonely nights during World War II when the city was blacked out and her husband was working the night shift.
Their dog, Frisky, would bark as the air-raid wardens patrolled the alleys.
"I would be upstairs and scared to death that something was going to happen," she said. "The blackness of everything just got to you, and being alone just sort of got to you. I just felt so alone in that situation. It got a little scary."
In 1945, Weber's small family--augmented now by her father and the clock--moved to Kensington. "We wanted to get further out," she said. "That was the trend. People were moving out."
Kensington was little more then a village then, and Connecticut Avenue was a two-lane country road. "It was like country to me," she said. "I was a city person."
There was another move, to a rambler in Wheaton, and then nine years ago the couple moved to the retirement community in Gaithersburg--a lifetime and just shy of a century from her start.
"It's hard to realize that I've lived that long," she said. The old clock, though, more discreet in its old age, is still there to remind her.