Sense of humor helps with 109-year-old’s longevity

‘God doesn’t want me,’ Tyrone resident Helen Meredith jokes

Helen Meredith (center) celebrated her 109th birthday on Nov. 13 at Epworth Manor in Tyrone. Helping her celebrate are family members (seated from left) niece Sanda Burket and great-niece Susan Burket Zerbe; (standing from left) great-great-great-niece Hollynd Hand, great-great-niece Noelle Hand, great-great-nephew-in-law Darin Hand, great-great-nephew Dustin Yothers, great-niece Leslie Michaels Hammond and great-great-niece Stephanie Hammond. / Courtesy photo

It’s been a modest life but a long one.

And apparently Helen Meredith of Epworth Manor in Tyrone, who recently celebrated her 109th birthday with family members, doesn’t take that life — or its longevity — so seriously that she can’t poke a little fun.

At her party, Meredith repeated her frequent explanation for her long life: “God doesn’t want me,” and at one point, held a rose to her chest, as if she were in a coffin already, according to her great-great-nephew Dustin Yothers of the Lancaster area.

Yothers, 33, is fascinated by Meredith’s staying power and has been trying to find where his aunt’s age ranks in the state and even nationally, although with limited success.

“It’s pretty crazy to think about,” he said. “(But) kind of cool.”

“It’s unbelievable,” said Yothers’ grandmother, Sonie Burket, daughter of Meredith’s youngest sibling, one of 11, among whom Meredith herself was fourth youngest. “She must have good bones.”

Perhaps the humor that allows Meredith to joke about her mortality has helped postpone that very mortality.

It’s supplemented by occasional orneriness, according to Burket, who began wearing a hat to conceal the loss of her hair after she contracted cancer, leading to a scolding from Meredith, who said it would ruin — her hair.

“Quit worrying about my head,” Burket would say, and that would trigger a “silly grin.”

Meredith, too, apparently has the genes for longevity, as others in the family have been long-lived, including Burket’s mother — Meredith’s sister, who died at 89 and was one of three great-grandparents that Yothers came to know.

Meredith also apparently never smoked or drank.

And as she never drove and lived alone most of her adult life, she ended up walking everywhere, including substantial distances to and from work, the hairdresser’s and the grocery store, towing a wire basket with wheels, according to Yothers and Burket.

“She fended for herself,” Burket said.

She didn’t hesitate to talk to strangers she met, Burket said.

Meredith never had children, although she fell in love with a man who went off to war and was killed, Yothers said.

She had girlfriends with whom she’d go out occasionally, according to Burket.

They’d play cards.

She probably went to the shore once, according to Burket.

Meredith also recalls going on an airplane but couldn’t say when or where she went.

She was always well-dressed.

“Even on a regular Tuesday,” Yothers said.

Her hair had to be perfect, and she had to have lipstick and jewelry and “high-heeled boots up to her knees,” Yothers said. “Dressed to a T.”

She never wore slacks, Burket said.

Until a couple of years ago, Meredith could carry on a conversation, Yothers said.

At an interview last week in the lobby of the nursing home, Burket spoke to Meredith and for her, although Meredith occasionally had periods of lucidity, interspersed with silence and requests to go upstairs and to eat supper, which was still two hours away.

Her father was an inspector of railroad cars, Meredith said.

He must have had a good position, as Burket recalls that he dressed nicely for work and seemed to be a prominent man in town. He died when Burket was about 12.

Meredith spoke of one regret:

While she graduated from high school and was glad to get out — “Who isn’t?” — she didn’t study much while there.

Teachers would give her a chapter to read, and she’d lay the book down when she got home “and that was the end of it,” Meredith said. “I picked it up the next morning.” she said.

“I’ve always been sorry I didn’t pay more attention,” she said. “They always tell you you’re going to be sorry.”

Why didn’t you study more? Burket asked.

“I didn’t want to be bothered,” Meredith said. “(But) that’s no excuse.”

Yothers thinks that, despite her good humor, his great-great-aunt is probably lonely.

She still asks about friends and family members who’ve died, according to Burket.

“They’re all gone,” Burket said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.