Did you have pets as a child? What was your favorite color? How many siblings did you have? What was your favorite subject in school?
Simple enough questions that would not really faze anybody. Unless, perhaps, someone who is 103 years old. But the exception to that is Mary Carigiet who was peppered with those questions and more by the fifth graders of St. Anthony of Padua School who played host to the centenarian’s birthday on Thursday.
As it turned out, the spry and very alert native of Hiawatha, Utah, – “I think it’s a ghost town now,” she said of the former mining town – had so much more to share about her life. She spoke about her life experiences matter-of-factly without sugar-coating any of the hard times – as they perhaps would be viewed as such by some – and with such disarming candor that charmed the two-dozen youngsters in Kim Morenzone’s class.
She, along with an older sister, lived with their grandparents for a little while when they were young. Her father died two months before she was born, so she and her sister stayed with their grandparents after their mother remarried and had four more children with the second husband. Her grandparents “sent me out here on a train and I ended up in Lockeford” – the reason was unclear – and later graduated from high school in Lodi.
She and her late husband, Edward, owned and operated a noodle company in Stockton. The area around Lafayette Street has since been overtaken by progress. It was torn down to make way for a highway. Later, they moved to a property on East Highway 120 between Manteca and Escalon near the French Camp Road intersection. After her husband died, Carigiet continued to live at the old farmhouse where she maintains a big garden with plenty of citrus trees and blooming perennials and some annuals. She and her late husband did not have children, but she has nieces and nephews in the area with whom she maintains a close relationship.
“I have no children. I have other people’s children,” she said with a laugh, responding to a student’s question while sitting in a special chair facing the class in front of the blackboard that was decorated with colorful balloons and streamers, and a Happy Birthday message written on the board. She wore a glittering cardboard crown that was placed on her head by Morenzone when she arrived.
“I was the second oldest in the family. One (sibling) died really young. My family’s all gone except nieces, nephews and their children,” she told the children, adding, “You are lucky. The way you are taught, you are learning more than we used to.”
She elicited laughter from the children when she told them that she was quite “tomboyish” as a young girl who wore boys’ pants and shirt at a time when that was unheard of. Working in the fields while wearing clothes with the long skirts was hard enough, she explained. A pair of pants and shirt made working in the fields a lot easier, she said, laughing at the memory.
“I kind of liked it, after I got to wearing pants. It was fun,” she said, laughing.
As a child, her favorite subject in school was spelling, she said.
“I liked spelling. I was good in spelling. That’s why it’s easy for me to play a crossword puzzle,” Carigiet told the children.
She made them all smile when she said, “All of you are beautiful. You behave yourself beautifully. Tonight, when I say my prayers, I’ll pray that everything goes well with you, at home and with your teacher.”
The birthday party for Carigiet was facilitated by Sister Ann Venita Britto of St. Anthony’s Ministry of Caring. In years past, Carigiet celebrated her birthday during Sister Ann’s annual Valentine’s Day luncheon for area seniors. But that celebration was moved to March, prompting the arrangement made with Morenzone’s class who agreed to host the event. All the children presented Carigiet with birthday cards that they made especially for the occasion. There were refreshments served which included Valentine-themed cupcakes, a cake, cookies, and special chocolate presented to her by the school.
Sister Ann, along with other guests that included former St. Anthony’s pastor, Father Richard Morse, who is now serving at the Catholic church in Oakdale; St. Anthony’s Principal Mary Lou Hoffman, staff Pam Kalechenyi, and friends Lolita Rilcopiro and Marie Shane, all of whom are close friends of Carigiet.