Another Day by
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(253 Stories)

Prompted By Leap Day

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When I was young, my family was very big on celebrating birthdays. We were also very big on celebrating half-birthdays. Why be limited to one celebration a year? My sisters and I would make each other half-cards, and we would have a half-cake, to celebrate that the person was half a year older. But here’s the twist. Since my birthday is on August 30th, my half-birthday should be on February 30th. But wait . . . there’s no such day! So we celebrated on March 2nd, which was where it should have fallen, two days after February 28th. That was annoying, because it meant that people who were born on September 1st, two days after me, would have their half-birthdays a day before I would. When you are a small child, that seems like a grave injustice.

Half-birthdays and pirates make Leap Day more than just another day.

On leap years, however, February got an extra day. Still didn’t make it to February 30th, but at least it meant my half-birthday was on March 1st, the same day as people who were born on September 1st. So there!

What I never realized until I was much older was that most people don’t even celebrate half-birthdays.

When I was old enough to appreciate Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – still not very old, maybe twelve or so – I was greatly amused by The Pirates of Penzance, where Leap Day was a major plot point.* Our hero, Frederic, had been apprenticed to the pirates until his twenty-first birthday. As he is about to turn twenty-one, he thinks his duty will be over and he can stop being a pirate. But no! Because he was born on February 29th, even though he has lived for twenty-one years, he has only had five birthdays. Thus he will not be free until he is eighty-four. Of course, after much singing, everything works out and everyone lives happily ever after in Penzance,** because they always do in G&S operettas.

Tonight in Sacramento there is going to be a “Happy Birthday, Frederic” party which will consist of a sing-along of the entire operetta. I am thinking about going, if I can figure out an appropriate Victorian costume to wear. (Victorian, because the pirates end up swearing allegiance to Queen Victoria. I initially thought we didn’t know the precise year of Victoria’s reign that the story takes place, but then I remembered that they say his 21st birthday will be in 1940. That means it was 1877. I can explain the math if anyone is interested.)

So tonight I plan to sing, and eat cake, and wish a happy birthday to Frederic the ex-pirate, as well as to Dinah Shore and Gioachino Rossini (of William Tell Overture fame), who seem to be the only famous people born on Leap Day.


* I know that Betsy also wrote about Pirates this week, and I am not surprised, since she and I share a lot of the same musical background. However, I had it in mind from the time we first talked about having a Leap Day prompt. My first draft of the blurb for this prompt began “February 29th only comes around once every four years, which was a plot point in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance….” My co-administrators convinced me to replace it with a more generalized blurb about women taking the initiative in relationships, in the hope that it might inspire more stories.

** I am now regretting that I never went to Penzance on one of my numerous trips to England when I was young and had a BritRail Pass, so that I could hop on a train to anywhere in the country according to my whims. I don’t think it occurred to me back then that Penzance was a real place.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    I had a vague recollection of Leap Year being a plot point in “Pirates,” but thank you (and Betsy) for fully refreshing me. That said, I never knew about half-birthdays — only un-birthdays. per the Queen in Wonderland — so I appreciate that enlightenment.

    I love your description of trying to calculate your own half-birthday given the ambiguities of February. And, as you note, only a small child would see a “grave injustice” in having to celebrate it after younger kids did. Though, future attorney that you were, why didn’t you advocate for celebrating slightly earlier — i.e., February 28th or 29th, as the case may be? Or was that motion denied by The Powers That Be?

    In any event, do have a very happy, yummy, sing-y half-birthday celebration tonight with Frederic et al..

    • Suzy says:

      Celebrating slightly earlier wasn’t the point – it was when the half-birthday actually occurred. I’m sure the Powers That Be (Powers That Were?) would have let me celebrate whenever I wanted, but the fact remained that those kids born on September 1st would turn 6 ½ (or whatever age it was) two days before I would.

  2. What a charming story, Suzy! Kids always mention the “1/2” when they tell people their age, but I’ve never known any who actually celebrate the date. And I love that half birthday card — didn’t know there was such a thing! Have a great time tonight, and what a fun idea! Oh, and HA HA BIRTH . . .it’s not exactly half, but you get the point!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, while I never CELEBRATED a half birthday, I always announced half birthdays (as in “I’m eleven and a half years old!). I was keenly aware of the date (my high school crush, about whom I’ve written was HALF a year older to the day). During the time I lived in Chicago, I used a gynecologist used by a friend and a cousin, both long-time residents of the city. When I introduced myself as Barbara’s cousin, he said how much he loved her. “She is the only patient I have who describes herself as 31 1/2 years old!” So I feel for you on your date issue.

    And how fun to be able to celebrate Fredric’s birthday with a “Pirates” sing tonight” Long live Victoria!

    • Suzy says:

      Love the story about your cousin, Betsy. I probably stopped using the ½ as part of my age around 11 or 12. Good for her for sticking with it! I’m looking forward to the sing-along tonight – wish you lived nearby and could go with me!

  4. Marian says:

    Fun story, Suzy, and have a wonderful time at the event tonight. Sounds like a blast. While I never officially celebrated half birthdays, I’m very aware when mine is!

  5. Suzy, glad to hear other families celebrate half birthdays – we do too but without the half cards and half cakes – thanx for the idea!

  6. Dorothy Rice says:

    I loved this, Suzy. Half birthdays were never a thing in my family. Whole birthdays weren’t much of a deal either. One sister born in the summer never had parties, because no school friends to invite. I was January so we’d already celebrated enough in December. I wasn’t familiar with the Pirates plot point – so that was fun to learn about.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dorothy. I was born in August (obviously, if my ½ bday is supposed to be in February), so, like your sister I never had parties because nobody was around. Maybe that was how the ½ bday thing started. But we didn’t celebrate with outsiders, it was just for the family.

      Pirates is a fun show, and there’s a movie of it with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline, which you might enjoy.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your image, Suzy, and also the concept of celebrating half-birthdays. Why not? There can never be too much celebrating in life. I hope you made it to that party. The way you tied your family half-birthday custom to Pirates of Penzance was really clever. A fun read!

  8. Dorothy Rice says:

    I saw a production of Pirates once, but I guess I didn’t catch the leap year plot point, or I’d forgotten. There was a lot going on as I recall! The movie sounds like one I’d enjoy – I love Linda Ronstadt.

  9. So much here, Suzy. Firstly, great story.

    “Half birthdays”: my (first) ex-wife and I used to celebrate what we called “Unbirthdays” – same as half birthdays. Ours in fact was an ill usage: as readers of Lewis Carroll well know, each of us has 364 unbirthdays a year, not just one at the midway point

    Pirates: ah yes. As a precocious trombonist in my youth my first and only professional gig was playing in the pit for a run of Pirates. I loved it. There were two of us trombonists, Roger, a music teacher at a high school in another town, and me. I remember Roger smoking a cigar in the pit. (Imagine!) I remember exulting about what a neat experience this professional gig was, to which Roger responded, “stay in school, kid.”

    In prep school we joined with a neighboring girls school to put on Pirates my senior year. I auditioned for the part of the Pirate King but a nasty cold sidelined me. I was in the chorus in two capacities, as part of the band of pirates then as one of the unhappy lot of constables. Great memory.

    And Linda Ronstadt. The. All-time. Best. Female. Vocalist. Ever. Saw ‘sound of my voice” and loved it. Thanks for the memory triggers.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Tom. And thanks for sharing your Pirates memories. Too bad you didn’t get to play the Pirate King, I bet you would have been great. (“It is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king!”)

      • Yes it certainly is! That song was the audition piece. Would love to have sung it. But my favorite song is the one that follows the revelation that poor Frederic is, as he puts it “a little boy of five”: it’s a trio among Frederic, the Pirate King and Ruth, his nurse (“A paradox a paradox a most amusing (?) paradox”). Sigh.

        • Suzy says:

          A most *ingenious* paradox! Yes, that’s a wonderful song – I’m pretty sure that song is where I first learned the word “paradox”! And having sung the entire operetta last night at the Happy Birthday Frederic Sing-along, all the words are fresh in my mind.

  10. Doesn’t anyone with a birthday on March 31, May 31, August 31, October 31, or December 31 have the same half-birthday problem?

    Mike Wallace

    • Suzy says:

      August 31 birthdays would have it even worse. But for the March, May, October, and December people, they just have to celebrate one day late, which is not at all the same problem.

      • Suzy says:

        And by one day late, what I mean is on the 1st of the next month, so nobody younger gets to celebrate before them. That is the situation I have on Leap Years, but not the rest of the time, and poor August 31 never gets there.

  11. Well-captured moments, Suzy! The importance of those little things like half-birthdays, who got to ride in the front seat, the advantages and disadvantages of names in alphabetical order… I had forgotten the plot of Pirates, which I had performed in junior high, aka middle school. I was happily cast as Dead-Eye Dick. Glad you made it to the party to sing and eat cake!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Charlie. Dick Deadeye is actually a character in HMS Pinafore, not Pirates, so that could explain why you didn’t remember the plot. Pinafore has a slightly different plot which has babies switched at birth by a careless nursemaid, but no Leap Day element.

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