Centennial Birthday in Exmore

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By Linda Cicoira — Aaron Lee Ayers, of Exmore, will mark his 100th birthday this Saturday, June 29. 

The centennial quest is not going to stop him from looking for a wife — preferably skinny but age doesn’t matter and looks are not that important. 

He plans to continue exercising via a walk around the neighborhood, drinking water, or eating his favorite foods — cheese and chicken wings.

There won’t be a big party. “They’re not good for you,” Ayers said of such celebrations. His oldest child, Margaret Sarah Ayers Brooks, who is in her 80s, was with him Tuesday to talk about his life along with her daughter, Peggy Brooks Giddens. Both also live locally. 

Ayers didn’t rule out having some cake to honor his milestone but said there wasn’t always cake around for him. He didn’t remember having any toys either.

“My mother died when I was seven, that’s about the worst thing that happened,” Ayers said. “The best thing that ever happened was getting into God’s way of doing things,” he said. “We can’t do everything because we’re not perfect.”

When he was growing up in the village of Boston in Accomack County, the closest town was Craddockville. It was a couple of miles to walk to get something from the store, a job he was sometimes given. He estimated a loaf of bread to be between 3 and 5 cents back then. It wasn’t sliced. That came later.

The former barber, oyster shucker, and farm laborer was born to Joseph Ayers and Laura Taylor Ayers in 1919. He had three sisters and a brother. He was the oldest.

After his mother’s death, his aunt and uncle, Lola Taylor Ayers and Johnny Hill Ayers, raised him. That was in 1926, the same year Cuban leader Fidel Castro, movie star Marilyn Monroe, and playboy Hugh Hefner were born.

Ayers’ first job was harvesting potatoes. “My mother drug me in the field. My daddy drug me in the field. My uncle drug me in the field. And then I drug myself in the field. I had to pick and dig potatoes, all kinds … 50 cents was the highest pay for all day long. Worked following mules and horses on the farm.” Ayers said, the money “would go pretty far to tell you the truth.”

After moving to Seaside Road, in Painter, he went to school at Mount Zion Baptist Church until he was in the 5th grade. At 18, he got married to Margaret Upshur, who was from Bridgetown, in Northampton County. They were married for more than 30 years and had 11 children.

Ayers was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. It was 1943. He was 24 years old and was helping the ship’s cook and serving food to other sailors. He visited Japan but couldn’t recall any other places that he had traveled to. Ayres said he served in the Navy for 11 months and 11 days. 

“I had four kids when I went in,” Ayers said. “That’s the reason I came out so early.”

In his mid-20s, he got his first car. “It was a Ford, a Model T.” In his birth year, the automakers started offering the vehicles with electric starters in addition to the standard hand crank.

He started voting in his mid-20s too but never got involved in politics. Ayers never had a favorite president. He liked them all. They were his presidents, after all, he said.

Ayers married a second time but he didn’t consider it the real thing since it only lasted for six months. Eventually, he fathered five more children. The total other descendants include 35 grandchildren, 41 great-grandchildren, and nine great-great-grandchildren.

Ayers lived in Delaware for 40 years. He went there in 1969 but returned home to the Eastern Shore for the golden years. He shucked oysters in Maryland for a while. “I ain’t done it for years now,” he said. Ayers was a barber for most of his working years and still cuts his own hair. 

In 1919, nearly six months after he was born, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act. Ayers was never much of a drinker. “It hurt me,” he said. “Alcohol bothered me. I didn’t care much for alcohol.”

Toasters were invented nearly a decade before Ayers was born but he never owned one. Today, he has a cell phone and a microwave. He couldn’t remember when he got a TV but had one at his home Tuesday.

When Ayers was born it was thought that a man’s life expectancy was 53.5 years and a woman’s was 56. He’s nearly doubled that prediction. A woman who married his cousin is 105 and lives not far away.

He’s not sure what the afterlife is going to be like. He hopes heaven will be his destination one day. “They say it is going to be nice and everlasting then,” Ayers said.