By Norman Jameson
Like a good son, Carlyle Hayes calls his mother every day to say he loves her.
Unlike most good sons, Carlyle is 90 years old — and his mother is 112 and half.
Sina Hayes is thought to be the sixth oldest person in the United States, living at Brookridge Retirement Community in Winston-Salem, N.C. Carlyle lives in Fort Worth, Texas, 1,100 miles away and visits his mother four times a year. And calls her every day.
Until very recently, Sina could converse on the call. Now she is virtually deaf, but she knows when it’s Carlyle on the phone and she brightens immediately.
“I don’t want her to forget she is loved,” Carlyle said on a January visit to Winston-Salem. “My report to her, whether she hears it or not, is that ‘We love you. Everybody in Texas loves you.’ I want to hear her say she is feeling good.”
Despite infirmities that gripped her in just the past two months, Sina would say, as she always has, that “all my days are good.” Carlyle and Frankie, his wife of 66 years, believe Sina’s positive outlook is a big reason she continues to live.
“We’re ready for her to go, but she keeps hanging on,” he said. “Whenever the Lord is ready to take her, we’re ready.”
“I’m puzzled that she’s this age, but I still don’t think of her as old,” Carlyle said. “Frankie is concerned that I’m not turning her loose.”
Because of a strong economy, higher birth rate and immigration, America’s population is younger than other developed countries. But the population segments growing fastest are those that are oldest. People age 65 and over made up one-eighth (12.8 percent) of the population in 2009.
Said a reporter to Frankie, “You’re 88. Are you old?”
Her denial is based not on the calendar but on her view that being active and future thinking keeps you young.
Carlyle said, though, that the newspaper considers him old because any reference to someone in his 70s, describes him as “elderly.”
“Old is in the mind,” said Frankie.
For the record books
Still, no one would deny that Sina is old. At 112 and half — and they are counting the halfs, now — she is older than anyone else in the United States, save for five other people.
Her husband, Raleigh Kinion Hayes, died in 1993 at age 92 and Sina stayed home alone for a year before moving to Brookridge, a facility founded by North Carolina Baptists. She lived there independently for 16 years and only moved into assisted living when recovering from a broken hip suffered at age 107.
Sina grew up on a farm in rural North Carolina, working hard and “eating everything that’s wrong for you,” said Carlyle. Her father died at age 65, her mother at 75.
She always had a positive outlook and is filled with “happy thoughts.” Her nickname among family is Pollyanna, which is also the family’s favorite board game.
In 1920 at age 17 she married Raleigh, who lived just down the road. They moved to Winston-Salem where family connections helped him land a job at giant Reynolds Tobacco, from where he retired as superintendent of construction at age 65. Sina was paid by the piece to sew infant sleepers for Hanes Knitting Company.
Sina and Raleigh had three sons. Joe died at age 59 of a brain tumor. Harold died in 2015 at age 92 — just hours after his last visit with Sina, when he came from California trying to attend her 112th birthday party.
Sina grew up one of 11 children, and she still has a sister, 95, who lives in Massachusetts. After caring for her widowed mother, Elizabeth Joyner, for 15 to 20 years Sina told her children she would never let any of them do the same for her. It was too hard, and too limiting.
Still, Frankie said, “I’d figure a way to take care of her if I had to.”
As it is, Sina’s personal assets evaporated three years ago and she now relies on Medicaid. As the population ages into expensive end of life care, the burden on Medicaid may grow heavier than the nation can bear.
Frankie and Carlyle express real gratitude for the human services support and for Brookridge’s policy never to evict a resident who outlives their resources. Yet they voice the ironic complaint common among senior adults over the number of people who receive government assistance.
Frankie, 88, said in the Great Depression families took care of each other. Her own family, which had nine aunts, uncles and their children, lived in one house and paid rent to the grandparents. Each family had a bedroom and they all shared two kitchens.
“To survive we may have to come back to that,” she said.
She recognized that the ability of children to place aging parents in residential homes limits the level of personal responsibility that children feel. Even though they live 1,100 miles away, the Brookridge staff tells her and Carlyle that they visit Sina more often than the local children of many other residents.
Carlyle Hayes is known to many in Baptist life because of his career from 1957 to 1980 with the once prominent Radio and Television Commission.
Thirty-two months in the Coast Guard interrupted his Duke University education, but he finished there in 1950 with an accounting degree.
He was working in Nashville, Tenn., when Paul Stevens, head of what was then the Radio Commission, asked Carlyle to come manage the Commission if he could get it moved out from under the auspices of what was then the Home Mission Board in Atlanta. Hayes worked there until a changing of the guard.
He helped raise money for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Cargill Associates, fundraising for churches and universities. He still makes solicitation calls for Cargill. He and Frankie are longtime members of Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
The Hayeses have no illusions about the hard realities of aging. They attend many funerals and, while each delivers the pang of loss, it also reminds them they are outliving their friends.
They recognize it is a normal process. They say, “Make new friends.”
They travel with a “young couple” that owns a travel agency. Those friends are just 80 and “we travel with them all over the world. We just pay the money and hang on.”
They went to Australia and New Zealand in 2010. Carlyle and Frankie go three times a year to special events in Branson, Mo., and come to Winston-Salem four times annually, always catching the Easter sunrise service over God’s acre in the Moravian community of Old Salem.
And, their three children, seven grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren give them “lots to look forward to,” said Frankie.
They all live close and celebrate birthdays with pizza at their house. “It’s awesome to think that God’s allowed us to see our great grandchildren and to plant seeds and to pray for them daily,” she said.
Not relying on her own strength
“Life is so awesome at this age because you depend more on the Lord. You can’t do it in your own strength. When you get this age you need help hourly.”
Their future plans revolve around their children and their families. They rely on their children now when they travel after the desk clerk at their regular hotel in Winston-Salem declared they should not be making the Texas to North Carolina trip alone anymore.
He told them he would not have a room for them unless “one your lovely daughters comes with you.”
“You can’t beat the attention they give us,” Carlyle said. Youngest daughter, Karla, — with them on this trip — said the children appreciate the attention they receive travelling with Carlyle and Frankie. “It’s like we’re little again.”
What have they enjoyed about their long lives together?
“Just, the journey, and realizing how awesome God is,” Frankie said. “We’ve just enjoyed a good life.”
Sitting next to Carlyle’s mother, with Karla next to them, Carlyle and Frankie get a bit wistful. They recall their travels and the “so many wonderful friends” through the decades with whom they’ve maintained relationships.
“I’m fond of the way he cares for me,” said Frankie, touching Carlyle’s hand. “I’ve lacked for nothing. We read the Bible and pray together every day. Without God it would not be possible. We both love the Lord.”
Meanwhile, every time the phone rings, Carlyle and Frankie “nearly kill each other” racing to get it, convinced it will be the call telling them mother is gone. They don’t dread it because they know Sina has made every day count for each of her 112 — and a half — years.
— This article was first published in the March/April 2016 issue of Herald, BNG’s magazine sent five times a year to donors to the Annual Fund. Bulk copies are also mailed to BNG’s Church Champion congregations.