Happy Birthday | Ponca City News

I’m delivering this column to the newspapers on my birthday. I was born on June 22, 1949. That makes me 73 years old. And I’m kind of surprised I’ve made it this far. Why? Because I didn’t inherit the best genes. My father died at the age of 47. He had six brothers. And of those six uncles of mine, only one lived past 60. So I was thrown back into the shallow end of the longevity gene pool.

Of course, the reason I’m still here has as much to do with lifestyle choices as it does with genes. My father smoked heavily and drank more than a little his entire life. Not once have I seen my father go for a hike or a bike ride or do any physical activity outside of work. (He was a janitor at a church and school complex.) On the other hand, I’ve never had a cigarette, I only have an occasional glass of wine, and my wife and I try to go for a bike ride every day.

Anyway, here I am still joining 73. And before I end this column, I’m going to tie this to something Social Security related. But since it’s my birthday number 73, I’m in a bit of a nostalgic mood and I want to share a few stories with you.

I mentioned that I’ve never seen my dad (and my mom, for that matter) physically active except at work—and of course, chores around the house. But that doesn’t mean they never did anything. My father served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as an aircraft mechanic on various Pacific islands, preparing B-24s and B-25s for their bombing raids. And my mom was the top player on her high school tennis team. So you had an active life before jobs and kids and bills and mortgages got in the way.

Speaking of jobs. I mentioned that my father was a janitor, and some people would say he was “just” a janitor. But I remember as a kid I thought he was the most important person in the world. He was the administrator of the Catholic church and school we attended in Sheboygan, Wisconsin – Saints Cyril and Methodius. After the minister and nuns, he was pretty much the most respected and admired and most important member of the church/school community. And as his eldest son and mate, I wasn’t far behind.

So, because of my father’s status, I was a “BBOC” (Big Boy on Campus) in our elementary school. And my BBOC status had a lot to do with keys! Yes, key! let me explain. My father had a keychain on his belt. I bet that key holder had 50 keys attached which would get it into almost every room in the whole complex. And as son #1 and assistant caretaker, I had a duplicate set of keys. And that really impressed my classmates from 1st to 8th grade. I mean, if you want to go into the locked staff room after work and see what treasures are hidden there, you can come to me. If you wanted to sneak into the usher’s office at the church to search the floor for lost collection baskets, I could take you into the girls’ bathroom, I had a key. Gosh, I enjoyed those days as the janitor’s son and the kid with the keys!

The fact that we lived on the grounds of the church/school complex also added to our status. The church had built a new convent for the nuns and they let my father and his family move into the old convent. How many children have grown up in a house with a painted relief of the Last Supper engraved on the dining room wall? And how many children had a common room that was a former chapel, complete with an altar that we used as a game table?

I think I told a story in a previous column about the new convent they built for our school and parish sisters. It came complete with a swimming pool, which I never figured out as a kid. I mean, why on earth did nuns need a swimming pool? You could certainly never use it. Gosh, if they jumped in, they’d get those big head-to-toe black dresses all wet, right?

Well, one day my brother and I were determined to solve this mystery. We helped my father by mowing the grass around the nunnery. There was a large, tall fence surrounding the backyard swimming pool. But I found a tiny hole in one of the fence’s wooden slats. We peered through. And, my goodness, there were Sister Rose and Sister Irma sitting by the pool in bathing suits! Sure, they were extremely modest (and black) swimsuits. But still they were bathing suits! And that was our 2nd and 5th grade teachers who weren’t wearing much at all! OMG! You had hair! They had legs! And most shocking of all – they had boobs! We couldn’t believe our eyes. These heavenly creatures, whom we believed to be just a step below angels, turned out to be pure women! My brother and I couldn’t wait to share this news with our classmates. I’m surprised we didn’t start a rebellion by disenchanted little Catholic boys and girls!

Another short story. Earlier I mentioned that I had the key to the girls’ bathroom. It was actually the key to a caretaker’s cupboard that was in the bathroom. Well, one day after school, I helped my dad by cleaning the bathroom. As I did so, I heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching nun. (They wore rosaries around their waists, which made a distinctive jingling sound as they walked.) I should have said, “Excuse me sister, I was cleaning here. Let me go and give you some privacy.”

But instead I panicked. I slipped into the janitor’s closet and closed the door. I was hardly breathing! I heard the nun enter one of the stalls and proceed to do what the people there are doing. And once again my little 10 year old self was shocked! I just didn’t think angels/nuns would do something like that! The nun finished her “business” and left. But I don’t think I got out of that closet an hour later. I was so traumatized! Combine this incident with my swimming pool discovery and I’m surprised I didn’t try to report my discoveries to the Pope!

OK. Back to me and Social Security. I just turned 73. And my wife is 78. (I still can’t believe I married an older woman 48 years ago!) Anyway, we’ve now reached the turning point in our Social Security life. I mentioned earlier that we both defied tradition and the advice of financial planners and started collecting our Social Security benefits at age 62. So we’ve been living in the gravy train of early performances for many years. But now we have reached the times when we might have been ahead of ourselves by waiting until a later age to receive our benefits. In other words, we’re starting to be on the losing side of the Social Security game now (when you start your benefits). But, you know what? We dont care. We’ve had fun spending our reduced Social Security benefits for the past decade or more. And we’ll keep having fun spending those perks for whatever time we have left on this earth — and before I face eternal damnation for glimpsing those nuns in bathing suits!

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It’s called “Social Security: Simple and Smart.” You can find the book at or search for it on Amazon or other bookstores. To learn more about Tom Margenau, read past columns, and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.

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