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Leap year a reason to celebrate for some

February 29, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

You're more likely to fall to your death than "leap" to your birth.

Look it up.

Using 2000 demographic data, the National Safety Council says the lifetime odds of a fatal fall - a slip, a trip, a tumble, a stumble; from a bed, a chair, a ladder, a ledge - are 1 in 269.

A basic calculation tells us that the chance a baby is born Feb. 29 is 1 in 1,461.

Society needs a Feb. 29, and the odds and the oddities it carries, every four years. It balances our calendar.

The year as we know and live it is 365 days long.

However, the astronomical or tropical year - how long it takes Earth to completely orbit the sun - is more precisely 365.2422 days, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory's Astronomical Applications Department's Web site.

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An extra day every four years makes up for all those quarter days we miss.

That doesn't completely solve the problem, though.

From the time of Julius Caesar to the 16th century, mankind lost almost two weeks. Therefore, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII shifted spring from March 11 to March 21, according to the Naval Observatory's Web site.

In his adjusted calendar, 97 leap days would be added every 400 years. That created an average Gregorian calendar of 365.2425 days.

To make up for the tiny discrepancy between the true tropical year and the adjusted Gregorian year, we hone in on the truth this way:

We add one day to the calendar every four years. However, we don't have a Feb. 29 if the year is divisible by 100. Unless the year is also divisible by 400 - then, we do.

Therefore, 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 was not.

Go figure.

None of that technical tinkering matters much to people with Feb. 29 milestones.

Charity Ringquist of Smithsburg turns 32 today. Not 8, as leap year pranksters say, but 32.

In between leap years, Ringquist, a mother of two, celebrates her birthday Feb. 28.

Other than that, the quirk of her special birthday is no big deal.

"It's just like another day," she said.

Hal Mason of Hagerstown, a substitute teacher who is retired from Verizon, is 52 today.

Normally, in the off years, he's a Feb. 28 guy, too. That's because while he grew up, his mother, who lobbied for February celebrations, won out over his father, who preferred March, Mason said.

Today marks 80 years for Thelma Binkley of Greencastle, Pa., who also chooses Feb. 28 for her non-leap year birthdays.

"The children will have a party," she said.

Cheryl and Tim Cordell of Clear Spring got married Feb. 29, 1992, to have a unique day.

"She didn't want me to forget," said Tim Cordell, 44.

It was a small ceremony at her brother's house.

The couple will mark 12 years today with a night out for dinner, he said.

When there's no Feb. 29, "it's her decision" when to celebrate, he said. Usually, it's the closest weekend.

Mildred "Shirl" Shryock of Maugansville, 73, clearly remembers the day she and her husband, Jim, 75, got married. It was Feb. 29, 1964. It snowed the previous day, but the sun came out for their ceremony.

Mildred Shryock said they didn't choose the day for its significance. It simply was a Saturday at the right time.

Both Shryocks are retired. She worked for a mail-order library supply company for 20 years. He worked for Potomac Edison, the forerunner to Allegheny Energy, for 43 years.

Mildred Shryock couldn't say how the couple has bucked the odds and stayed together for 40 years.

That's 40 years, a ruby anniversary, not - as the leap year joke suggests - 10 years, which traditionally calls for tin or aluminum.

Mildred Shryock wasn't even sure as of Thursday what, if anything, the couple would do for their leap year anniversary today.

She suspected, though, it would involve being with their daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters.

"We enjoy them very much," she said.

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