June 27, 2012

I want to take a moment to wish a belated happy birthday to Castle Bisset Honorary Resident Ernestine “Ernie” Stripe of San Clemente, California, who recently turned 98. She was born in 1914, about six years before women in America were given the right to vote.

Ah, the good old days.

Well, perhaps they weren’t so good. I believe in equality. Women should have the right to vote, and men should have the right to wear pantyhose. Hey, it’s only fair.

Truth is, every period has its challenges. One of the challenges we face today is what to do with all the old people. No, I’m not talking about Ernie. She’s a youngster compared to Mary Josephine Ray of New Hampshire, who is 114 and once again enjoying her teen years. (She’s got the Jonas Brothers on her iPod.)

Mary was born on May 17, 1895, just a week after Kama Chinen of Japan, who is currently the oldest person in the world. They’re among a group of at least 75 people in the world who are 110 or older, all born in the 19th century, all surviving two World Wars, the Great Depression, and all the Star Wars movies.

Many of them have been senior citizens longer than the President has been a junior citizen.

60-year-old man: “Only five years until retirement. I can’t wait!”

110-year-old woman: “It was great for the first 40 years, my grandson. But now I’m tired of being retired.”

60-year-old: “What are you going to do, grandma?”

110-year-old: “Well, I applied for a job as a Wal-Mart greeter, but I’m not sure if I’m old enough.”

While only a few people get to be super-centenarians (living life 110 percent), the number of folks celebrating their 100th birthday has grown exponentially. It’s a big challenge for retirement homes. They’ve had to hire more employees, including some whose duties consist entirely of lighting birthday candles. Actually, they do have one other duty: putting up signs that say, “Please ignore the fire alarm.”

Did you know that America now has an estimated 96,500 centenarians? Yes, 96,500 people who remember what Mr. Clean looked like with a full head of hair.

The number of centenarians in America is expected to grow to a whopping 601,000 by the year 2050. If you were born in 1950, that figure should excite you, because there’s a pretty good chance that by 2050, you’ll still have a little Social Security left.

I’m glad that so many people are living longer, because it makes me feel younger. I may not live to be 100, but if I live to 70, I’ll be able to visit a retirement home and hear someone say, “Hello there, young man!”

Actually, I won’t even have to visit a retirement home. Chances are, centenarians will be all around us, many of them still working. You don’t have to be young to be productive. Just ask Texas lawyer Jack Borden. He’ll tell you that the retirement age should be raised from 65 to 105.

Borden, 101, works 40 hours a week and was recently honored as America’s Outstanding Oldest Worker. He’s been practicing law since 1936 and, with that much practice, you can bet he’s good at it.

Borden also works as a greeter –- not at Wal-Mart, but at First Baptist Church of Weatherford.

If you happen to be at the church and hear someone say, “Hello there, young man,” don’t be surprised if Mary Josephine Ray is paying Borden a visit.