My mother just turned 94.

I tell people that and they are impressed, especially when they hear that my mother lives by herself and is in good health. Then they say things like “She must be quite a woman!”

I’ve been hearing these kinds of comments for years, and I’ve never really understood them. I've never understood why anyone would equate living to an old age as having anything to do with the kind of person someone is. Doesn’t it all have to do with other factors, such as good genes, healthful living and luck?

Now, in the case of my mother, I do think she is “quite a woman.” In fact, I think she is an amazing woman. Yet I never thought that had anything to do with her longevity.

Then, on her recent birthday weekend, I began to think differently.

Susan and I had spent that Friday night at my mother’s house in Belfast, because our son John was hosting a sleepover there for the Mount View High School drama students preparing for Maine’s annual One Act Play Festival. In other words, my mother’s house is the site of the kids’ cast party — a tradition that began when our daughter Anna become involved in Mount View drama years before.

The party always occurs on a night when three local schools, Mount View, Belfast, and Searsport, test-run their shows on each other and then engage in lengthy critiques, so it’s often midnight by the time the kids gather and my mother is always in bed. But the morning tradition is that Susan and I serve the kids a big breakfast —and my mother is always up and ready long before any teenager. She helps Susan cut fruit. She drinks her coffee and chats with us as we make eggs and cook bacon.

My mother clearly loves the fact that all these kids are in her house. It doesn’t bother her in the least that they were making noise until 3 a.m. or that many are now sprawled across odd corners of the floor. She seems unaware that all the furniture in the living room has been moved, that the trash cans are overflowing, and that there are piles of shoes all across the entryway right where she walks to the bathroom. All she knows is that the house is full of young people — and that makes her happy.

One of her oft repeated lines is “I never mind noise, as long as it is happy noise.”

My mother is indeed quite a woman. She has always had a great attitude, even though her life has had its share of disappointments and hardships. A shy and bookish middle child, she was often overshadowed by her two outgoing sisters. Though a top student in high school, her father would not allow her to attend college, believing that education was wasted on women. She worked as a secretary, and ultimately put herself through nursing school. After the War, she met her soul mate, my father. They had 22 years together before he died suddenly, leaving behind five children. At age 11, I was the youngest by almost five years. My mother, over the next few years, helped the profoundly sad boy that I had become find hope and thrive, during what must have been an incredibly difficult period for her.

But despite these trials and many more, my mother would be first to say she has had a wonderful life.

As Susan and I were chatting with Mom on that Saturday morning, waiting for the teenagers to stir, one of many topics of conversation she raised was Christmas. She told us how she was buying one Christmas present every month, so that she could spread out the costs. But to me, it seemed like this was much more than a financial decision. Here was a 94-year-old with a clear eye on the future.

Believing in the future, whether that is represented by enjoying the company of young people or buying gifts that will not be exchanged for another 10 months, is part of what keeps my mother active and alive.

That and her clear love of people. She also spoke that morning about various people in her life: some of her fellow parishioners at Saint Margaret’s; the teenager who is at the center of a self-help group that meets at her house each month; and the young woman who helps her with housework once a week and has become like another daughter.

And then there is her granddaughter, Anna, who was also at the house that morning. Anna was home from college that weekend for several reasons, but one of them was to celebrate Grandma’s birthday the next day. To see Anna and Grandma together is something to behold. They talk animatedly. They do things together on the computer. You would never know that 75 years separate them.

Sadly, there are many people who share my mother’s qualities who do not live to be 94, because they do not also posses the genes or lifestyle or luck that makes such long life possible. But I suspect that many people who could live to be that old never do, precisely because they do not share my mother’s love of people or belief in the future.

My mother is not an amazing woman because she has lived to be 94. But I do feel that she has lived to be 94 in part because she is an amazing woman.

That’s the thought that came to me on that Saturday morning.

Just after breakfast, the drama students came into the kitchen when Mom and Susan and I were doing dishes and chatting. They gathered round and sang "Happy Birthday." My mother responded by smiling from ear to ear.

Let’s hope next year’s cast party also occurs close to my mother’s birthday. A 95th birthday is not an occasion to miss.

John Piotti of Unity runs Maine Farmland Trust. His column “Cedar and Pearl” appears every other week.