LEWISTON — Dorothea “Dottie” Brown has a group of friends over to her parents’ farmhouse once a week for knitting and dessert, and has for years. In three weeks, she’ll host Thanksgiving for family, rising early for all that cooking.

In her home, there’s no shortage of visitors and guests. A missionary stopped by for lunch not long ago, someone she’d known since he was a boy.

“Before he left, he said, ‘Dottie, ever thought about getting married?’ If I had been quick enough, I should have said, ‘Is that a proposal?’ but I wasn’t,” said Brown, laughing a big, warm laugh.

It’s easy to see why so many people stop by.

Petite, sharp-witted and quick to laugh, she insists repeatedly, sincerely, that there’s nothing particularly remarkable about her and yet she could be the most delightful 101-year-old you’re ever going to meet.

Brown was born in Nova Scotia in 1915 and moved to Massachusetts at the age of 8. Love brought her to Maine. Her late husband, George, an electrician, was the son of family friends.

Her first impression: “I thought he was a hick, I did,” she said, with another big laugh.

For two years, when she was a teenager, he wrote her letters in shorthand that she’d ask friends in business classes to read and translate. After they married, the couple lived in Livermore Falls and South Portland before eventually settling into her parents’ home. They raised two sons, George and James.

“(For fun) we went fishing and hunting,” Brown said. “I loved fishing; I wasn’t crazy about hunting, but I went. I’d get lost in my backyard.”

She and George were married 60 years minus a month before he died 20 years ago.

Brown’s mother taught her to knit at age 4 and she spends a lot of her time now sitting in a rocker in front of her wood stove, by a window, a basket of yarn at her feet. She makes sweaters, mittens and afghans, both to donate and for eight grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.

Between age 80 and 90, she also found time to sew 38 quilts.

“I have arthritis,” she said, nodding to her hands. “I know if I don’t use them, I’ll lose them.”

When she was 90, Brown said, the Rev. Bill Bailey at the Church of the Nazarene in Lisbon Falls suggested the two of them surprise the congregation. There was a fundraiser going on to buy bicycles for missionaries.

“So my pastor said to me, ‘Dottie, have you ever ridden a tandem bike?'” she said. “I said, ‘If I can get my leg over, I’ll ride.'”

That Sunday, she went in early and they made their entrance.

“We put on real dark glasses and we rode that tandem bike right down the center aisle of the church,” she said. “Everyone’s going, ‘Ahhh!’ And nobody recognized me until we were going out and then somebody said, ‘That’s Dottie!'”

That short, successful run inspired Bailey to reach out to the Moxie Festival. They rode that tandem bike in the parade for 10 years. She’d pedal from the back seat, her age on a sign on her back, drawing lots of waves, double-takes and at least once a doubter.

“My sons were there one time. This woman said, ‘Well, I know she’s not 95.’ My oldest son said, ‘Yes, she is,'” said Brown. “She said, ‘How would you know?’ He said, ‘I hate to admit it, but she’s my mother.'”

She bellows with laughter telling the story, marveling that anyone would find her presence in the parade or her age a big deal.

“When I was 99, we took first prize; we got a big trophy,” Brown said. “I said to the lady, ‘Why would we get a trophy for riding a bike?’ She said, ‘You’ve got more Moxie.'”

When Brown turned 100, organizers made her parade grand marshal. She hung up the bike-riding after that.

Short of the arthritis and a slower gait, Brown said she feels great. She eats healthfully and watches her salt intake. Longevity is in her genes: Both of her grandfathers lived to be 100. 

Brown stopped driving when her husband died, relying now on kindnesses like a neighbor who takes her grocery shopping once a week at Wal-Mart. She tries to go to the same cashier each time and last March, the week she turned 101, that cashier told her, “Now stay right here; don’t move” and dashed off to grab a cake.

Ten employees gathered around Brown and wished her, “Happy birthday.”

“She’s a very sweet girl,” Brown said. “It was very, very nice.”

“Wonderful” cake, too.

Brown said she’s put effort into maintaining her sunny attitude over the years.

“Know why I keep that right there?” Brown asked, pointing to a grinning Christmas elf with a year-round perch on her kitchen table. “I remind myself, nothing is so bad you can’t have a smile. I have a friend that’s negative about everything, she’s sick all the time. I think it affects your health. I haven’t had all pleasant things in my life, but I overcame them. God’s been good to me.”

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