EMERSON, N.J. — Helen Boyle of Emerson, whose 100th birthday is Wednesday, reads the greeting cards all over her Emerson dining table.
She opens one and says aloud: “You’ve been my mother for 70 years.”
Helen looks up.
“Yes, that’s true,” she says.
Up to two years ago, said her son and devoted caregiver, Steve Boyle, his mother lived independently.
The last two years have been tougher.
But she still has a sparkle in her eye and a kind word for those around her.
Being a centenarian surprises her a bit. Her mom died at age 33, leaving five young children.
“She had a heart condition,” Helen explained.
What’s her secret to such a long life?
She can’t say for sure.
“No secrets,” she said. “I always had to have a cup of coffee, though. I like coffee.”
Helen grew up in Newark. She recalls going to the railyard with her grandmother.
Unbeknownst to her parents, her grandmother would forage in the train cars for produce that was left over after delivery was made to stores.
Helen and her late husband, John Boyle, met while both worked at the old Bendix manufacturing plant in Teterboro.
“The supervisor used to put me in one place and John way over there,” she laughed.
After the couple had their fourth of six children, they decided to move out of their Wood-Ridge apartment, affectionately dubbed “the rabbit hutch.”
They drove around the county and, thinking they were in Paramus, Steve Boyle explained, wound up on Ackerman Avenue in Emerson.
At the time, there were hardly any houses on the street – the one the Boyles bought for $10,000 and the one across the street. It cost $14,000.
Helen, who has 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, never regretted moving to the borough.
“It was a nice life,” she said.
Steve Boyle has fond memories of playing on the front porch with his siblings when he was young.
“In the hot weather my parents would screen it in so we could all play out there and not worry about bugs,” he recalled.
Helen has been a parishioner at Assumption Church since it opened in 1965.
One of the birthday greetings on her living room table came from Pope Francis — a certificate in which he bestows upon her his apostolic blessing on the occasion of her 100th birthday, Feb. 8, 2017.
Helen read that, too, before settling in for an afternoon nap.