LYNNWOOD — Maizie Mays still has the thick curtains she used during World War II to black out her Seattle-area apartment. The heavy-duty sheets extinguished any light enemy planes could use to identify U.S. cities at night.
Maizie and her husband, Roy, a retired Marine first sergeant who fought on the USS Idaho at the Battle of Iwo Jima, use them to cover the windows of their winter home in Arizona.
“It’s tough material,” Maizie said last week in the lobby of Quail Park, a senior community in Lynnwood.
Roy sat nearby in a wheelchair. Maizie leaned against two walking poles. Her hair is no longer the reddish hue from her youth, but her tales and matter-of-factness are fiery enough.
The couple’s stories span the decades — 10 decades, to be precise.
On Sunday, Maizie will celebrate her birthday. She and Roy will both be 100 years old. He earned the title centenarian last Oct. 23.
“This is really special,” their neighbor, Steve Mallos, told The Daily Herald. “Two at once.”
Maizie, then known as Maizie Fisher, worked as a telephone operator when she first met Roy. (Rumor has it she heard the war had ended through the phone lines, before anyone else knew.)
Roy’s ship was docked in Seattle. He was spending his 21st birthday out on the town, dancing to swing music.
Maizie was a USO girl. It was an exhausting volunteer gig.
“I’d even take a second pair of shoes, my feet were so sore,” she said.
The couple’s early relationship was chronicled in the Mercer Island Reporter. A 2011 article describes Maizie writing letters to her sweetheart nearly every day for three years when he returned to war.
Last week, the couple remembered things with a little less glamour.
“I really didn’t pay much attention to what he looked like. I needed a ride home,” Maizie said with a smile. “That’s the truth. I had one bus token, and I lost it.”
As for boys, she said, “they were a dime a dozen during the war.”
If soldiers needed a comfy place to sleep when their ship docked, Maizie and her roommates would invite them up to their apartment.
Sometimes there were 16 or 17 men sleeping on the floor, she said. It was better than the bunks onboard.
“We just had to step over them when we went to work in the morning.”
And Roy? He liked Maizie’s legs.
“Absolutely,” he said. “They got better because of all those hills around there.”
They married a few years later, raising two daughters on Mercer Island. Both Roy and Maizie came from hard-working farm backgrounds.
Roy grew up in a family of 10 and picked cotton in Texas. He raised his kids to hunt.
“He was a bird hunter and I was his retriever until he got the dog,” said their daughter, Leslie. “Got my first shotgun at 13, whether I wanted it or not. It was under the tree.”
In the Pacific Theater of WWII, Roy’s battery shot down enemy planes. Everyone on his ship survived a hit by a Kamikaze pilot. And according to the family, Roy saw first hand the now-iconic scene of soldiers raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
Maizie grew up on an apple orchard in Washington’s Cashmere Valley.
“I worked in the orchards like the men did,” she said. “I cooked for 13 men as just a little girl. I learned to cook standing on a stool.”
The Great Depression hit when she was still living on the ranch with her brother and father.
“People didn’t have any food, and we did. And they’d line up for a mile and a half coming into our place, begging for food. We had a cow and pigs and chickens, and we had a garden and fruit,” she said. “I said, ‘Dad, we don’t have anything to feed them,’ and he said, ‘I’ll give them something.’ If he only gave them two eggs, they got two eggs.”
She and her brother saved up a few hundred dollars at that point. One day, their dad advised them to go collect it from the bank. But the building was padlocked. A sign read, “Closed. No money,” Maizie recalled.
“Everybody lost all their money in the bank. Everything,” she said. The government promised to send out checks. “But I got a check for 15 cents and one for 25 cents. That’s all I ever got.”
After getting married, the couple mirrored the generosity Maizie grew up with. On Mercer Island, they welcomed more than 20 people into their home who needed shelter. First it was Leslie’s baby cousin, whom they raised. A woman who had been sleeping in her car in a Safeway parking lot stayed with them for years. Later they helped her niece. Then 15 troubled young boys cycled through. They all slept in the basement and spent holidays with the family.
“That was a part of our life that was really special, because we shared (Roy and Maizie) with people that needed it,” Leslie said. “To this day, they call her.”
Maizie inherited that care-taking spirit from generations before her.
“My grandmother and grandfather and 10 children came across the plains in a covered wagon and settled in Starbuck, Washington,” she said. “One day a couple came and said to our grandparents, ‘We don’t want our little boy anymore, would you like to have him?’ And so grandma and grandpa said, ‘What’s one more?’”
The secret to their 77-year marriage, the couple said, is respect. Disagreements almost never turned into fights. The secret to getting to 100, if you ask their daughters, is to never sit down. The Mayses have been mostly too busy for that. Later in life, they were preoccupied by trips to Fiji and Europe. Now they’ve got six grandkids and eight great-grandkids, with one more on the way.
The family is planning a 100th birthday party for Maizie. Leslie is inviting everyone from relatives to strangers Maizie met in line at the supermarket.
“Sparkplug, we call her,” Leslie said. “She makes friends wherever she goes. It’d be nice to take after them.”