He’s had fewer birthdays than his grandchildren

Published 11:42 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wayne Harris is known as a magic man, but a trick of fate made most of his birthdays disappear.

He’s one of those people who celebrates a birthday today — his first in four years. Born Feb. 29, 1940, the longtime machinist considers himself 72 years old today. Technically, the father of four grown children and grandfather of 12 celebrates his 18th birthday.

“I have grandchildren older than me,” he said. “They’ll have more birthdays than me, too.”

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Reliable indexes are few on how many in the world were born on Leap Day, which occurs in the Gregorian calendar every four years to allow for about six hours that accumulate annually as Earth revolves around the sun. The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, founded in 1997, estimates 200,000 in the U.S. and 5 million worldwide.

Traditionally, people celebrate their birthdays either on Feb. 28 or March 1. Harris chose Tuesday because he’s always considered himself “a February baby.”

The odds of being older than your grandfather — in a sense — gets granddaughter, Kirstie White, 21, laughing at its mere mention.

“I’ve had more birthdays than him!” she said.

Harris’ parents floated on a barge to Vicksburg from Anguilla during the Mississippi River flood of 1927. His father, a boilermaker for the steam-powered rail industry of the time, drove his mother back into town from Hinds County so he could be born.

“It was a cold February day in 1940 — I remember it well,” Harris joked, quickly turning to the story related to him as a boy. “Mama said they drove in the snow from Edwards for me to be born at the old Mercy Hospital by the downtown post office.”

Co-workers through the years at Westinghouse, LeTourneau and, since 1986, Foam Packaging, as well as family members in Bovina where he’s lived for nearly 50 years know Harris by his sleight-of-hand with coins and trinkets.

“He’s called Magic Man because he’ll pull out a magic trick for everybody,” said Melonie Mackey, his daughter. “Just something to make somebody smile.”

Harris had a birthday party last weekend and had a nice haul, including a gift card for The Home Depot, family members say. What he’ll get from relatives the second time around, Harris deadpans, might “just be a hard time.”

“It’s just another day,” he said.