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101, 100 & COUNTING
Centenarians reflect on joys, sorrows of life
Merill Gardens Active living Director Kerry Yocum, right, brings residents Al Balylacu and Mary Petrucci into their surprise birthday party on Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Al Baylacq and Mary Petrucci have a lot of things to look back on in their lives.

There was the World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the civil rights struggle, and the global economy to name a few.

And on Friday, Baylacq, 101, and Petrucci, 100, were honored by their fellow residents at Merrill Gardens for eclipsing the century mark and proving that long life is something that it possible for the people who take life as it comes.

“I still remember the first car that I ever saw when I was three or four years old as a child in San Francisco,” Baylacq said. “My father owned a laundry and used to deliver it on a horse and buggy and it was from there that we saw our first automobile.

“Now there are millions of ‘em everywhere you look.”

After growing up in San Francisco in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge and finishing the two years of high school he was able to complete, Baylacq went to work. He would eventually join the Army and be shipped to Australia during World War II. It was one of the moments that he remembers most about his past.

“I ended up in Brisbane, and spent three years there before being promoted to Sergeant,” he said. “It was a time that everybody in the world was focused on the war.”

He made the trek to the Central Valley with his wife Alice to be close to her mother who was in a retirement home and nearing the end of her life. After her mother passed away, he said, Alice’s health declined and she didn’t last much longer.

“She was such a wonderful girl,” Baylacq said – getting choked up. “That’s the one thing that you can’t ever really get used to is losing the people that you love. I miss her so much.

“Looking back I have a lot of great memories and some not so great memories. But I’m happy today, and that’s what counts.”

For Petrucci – who just moved into Merrill Gardens to be closer to her niece and her husband – the secret to growing old successfully rests not in what you do, but what you don’t do.

“I grew up in an area that was very poor,” she said – noting that both of her parents were Italian immigrants. “When you’re poor, you learn to get by without the frivolous things that so many people wrap themselves up in. You learn to get by, and that’s all you can do.”

A native of Pajaro – an agricultural community in Monterey County – Petrucci went to San Francisco when she was young and found work as a bookkeeper in a print shop on Third Street.

After marrying husband Bruno – who worked at the same print shop as a color manager – Petrucci moved from the Potrero Hill neighborhood she called home to an apartment in the Marina District that she would keep for more than 70 years.

The move to San Francisco was a bit of a culture shock for the small-town girl with the humble upbringing, but she quickly adapted to the lifestyle.

And she had some memorable experiences during her tenure as a San Francisco resident as well. In 1931, Petrucci went to opening day of the San Francisco Seals – the Pacific Coast League team that at one time included Joe DiMaggio – when they moved into their new stadium at 16th and Bryant Streets.

But by reaching the milestone of 100, Petrucci has outlived many of the loved ones that she grew up with and befriended in her time in San Francisco – which casts somewhat of a shadow on the happy times she reflects on when it comes to her birthday. Not even that, however, completely outweighs the positives she recalls.

“There are a lot of happy memories in my life, sure. There are also some not so happy ones as well. But that’s life – you have some ups and some downs and you just have to deal with it.”