There was something about the photo in her hand that struck Helen Kenworthy the wrong way.
Rendered in black and white, the image itself clearly predated the advent of digital photography — of digital anything, really — allowing for any discrepancies to easily be chalked up to the ravages of time.
There was also the slight possibility, however minute it may have been, that any consternation on Helen’s part may have been due to the fact that the woman herself had recently turned 100 years old, and the photograph was from her teens.
“The hair doesn’t look right,” Helen said.
She remembers it being lighter — and for all I know, it might have been. The Helen who I’d been talking to for the better part of 45 minutes had white hair and used a walker to get back and forth from her bedroom to the lounge.
Already, I had learned a few fun facts about The Village at Penn State’s first resident to become eligible for her own centennial.
Helen earned her doctorate in education from Penn State, has lived in six different countries and moved a grand total of 38 times.
Oh, and she has two birthdays. The first one, held on June 22, reflects her actual date of birth, while the second is the result of a State Department snafu and the primary reason that neighbors from across the village waited until Thursday to throw a massive party.
To be fair, they did hold a singalong in Helen’s honor on her birthday (the actual one) and it apparently went over very well.
Most of this I learned secondhand. Helen’s not really much for small talk and the aggravation that approach spares her may, in fact, be the secret to her longevity.
The birthday festivities were planned to roll into Saturday, when Helen’s son would collect her for a jaunt to the Waffle Shop. She doesn’t have a favorite dish.
“I don’t worry about it. I just eat what they give me,” Helen said.
She was born in China and learned to speak Chinese before English. She married a man named Max, an infantry officer who commanded a battle group in Germany for two years before becoming the executive officer to the comptroller of the army.
After completing her doctorate, she worked as a home economist for Cooperative Extension at Penn State, and in retirement volunteered with the Centre County Agency on Aging.
Helen said she still feels like she’s 99 years old, and the timeline of world events that The Village at Penn State put up for her party on Thursday helped to illustrate just what an accomplishment that should be considered.
At the end of our visit, Helen was scheduled to get her hair done for the big event. Hopefully a century or so from now, the photos look right.