By Galen Patterson
On a Saturday morning at Salon Votre in Arcadia, a woman walked in to have her hair styled.
She moved effortlessly, although careful, around the small salon, lifting her hands to touch her hair, rising from her chair under her own strength and doing all the things healthy and capable humans tend to take for granted. The catch is: this woman is 100 years old.
She identifies herself only as Helen. Using her last name she suspects will draw too much unwanted attention. “When I turned 99, nobody said anything,” she jokes.
Joking is one of Helen’s strong suits. She laughs that all the “young people” she considers friends are in their 80s, she laughs about her two marriages and divorces, stating that she only gets married every 40 years, and she laughs about out-living everyone else she knew.
Perhaps even more miraculous than her mobility and sense of humor is the fact that Helen still drives regularly. She had driven herself to the salon, and does so every two weeks. She drives her friends around when they need help.
Helen spent her professional life as what we might call a secretary, but she describes more as “office work.” One of her oldest and most treasured items is a portable typewriter from the early 1930s.
Helen is originally from Connecticut. She was 12 years old when her mother gave it to her as a Christmas gift. Helen remembers walking past a stationary store near where she lived with her single mother. Like a movie, she saw the type writer in the window and dreamed about owning one. She recently dug it out and found an old piece of paper in it. The paper was a reminder to herself from the past and contained the original price of the typewriter. The price tag was $75 in the early 30’s, which is equivalent to roughly $1,400 today.
“I don’t know how my mother afforded it, but I was so happy,” she said. Her mother worked as a seamstress, making dresses for factories on the East coast.
The typewriter allowed Helen to develop typing skills necessary to get her first job, which then blossomed into a career.
Now Helen wants a museum or private collector to have the typewriter. These days, Helen lives for bridge.
Bridge is a card game played with partners, bidding on hands against opposing teams and disrupting opponent bids. Helen plays bridge 3 nights, two of which are with the same partner, Mary.
Hair stylist Steve Gutierrez has known Helen for decades and has maintained his friendship with her throughout the years. “In the 30 years I’ve known her she has never cancelled (an appointment), she’s never grumpy,” Gutierrez said, and adds that she only just started wearing jeans two years ago. Prior to that she wore suits and got very dressed up to get her hair styled.
These days, Helen stays up late doing crossword puzzles, eats what she wants and loves oatmeal, drives herself, others, and generally has no need to slow down. The people who know her find her remarkable and inspiring, but Helen is somewhat modest and does not want much attention.
After several minutes of persuasion by her friends, she finally agrees to take a picture, after spending nearly two hours in the salon. Moments later she is in her car, driving away.
Before she left, Helen was asked a typical question that she has probably heard many times before: How did you make it to 100? Her response: “I’d like to go to sleep and never wake up, but I don’t want to miss any bridge.”