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The Observer

Leaping ahead

Border town proclaims itself birthplace of a movement

Email|Print| Text size + By Sam Allis
Globe Columnist / February 10, 2008

I've always considered Leap Year Day akin to the extra screw you put in your sock drawer after misassembling a table.

The whole calendar thing just wasn't working out, so Julius Caesar created a 365-day year in 45 BC with an extra day every four years to make it work.

The year before, though, he blew out 46 BC to 445 days to recalibrate the calendar back to its original relationship with the seasons. What he came up with became known, quite understandably, as the Year of Confusion.

There's a word for all this: intercalary. It means the insertion of a day or month into a calendar year. The Observer recommends you drop the intercalary bomb in conversations to humiliate your enemies.

Why am I focusing on Leap Year Day already? It is, after all, at the far end of the month. Because Valentine's Day is coming at us yet again this Thursday, and I've already trashed it as the low-rent holiday of the year.

So, in this intercalary month of this intercalary year, I say let's go straight to the intercalary day. Everyone's gearing up for it. There's a bash that starts at noon on the 29th at Belair National Park in South Australia. According to The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, Martha Stewart is assembling a leap year gang for her TV show that same day.

I've talked to a number of leap year babies, and they all feel special. But then how else would they feel? The other three birthdays in each cycle are relative duds, so they throw the long ball on the Day of Days. Joanne Mariano, who works in Quincy, takes two days to celebrate. She's on to something but not quite there yet. The Observer says four days for four years. That's only fair.

Leap year baby Pat Beggy, principal of the Morse School in Cambridge, is ecstatic this year because her leap year B-day is in sync with her Zodiac sign, the Year of the Rat. This is seriously good juju.

That's all grand, but if you really want to talk Leap Year Day, you're talking Anthony, Texas/N.M. This is the leap year mecca, the self-proclaimed ground zero of the leap year movement. Anthony resident Mary Ann Brown, a leap year baby wouldn't you know, dreamed this whole thing up in 1988.

I asked her how it came about? Was it a slow Tuesday or what? "I have to admit it was sort of that," Mary Ann, who will be 19 in LeapSpeak, this time around, says by phone. "I was looking for something to promote the community. The press is always looking for something special."

First some background: This town, as the address indicates, is split on the border of Texas and New Mexico. The Texas side is incorporated; the New Mexico side is not. I ask Mary Ann what the population of Anthony is.

"Well," she pauses, "We're not so extremely well organized. I suppose we could go to the census for that."

OK, what about size? "Let's see. On the New Mexico side, it goes from the state line up to . . . I want to say O'Hara Road. That's about 2 miles. East to west, it's from I-10 to the old Highway 28."

Mary Ann's picture graced the Las Cruces Sun-News twice as a child for the sole reason that she was born Feb. 29. She liked that. Later she moved in 1951 from Las Cruces to Anthony after marrying Joe Bob Brown, who owns an auto parts store in Anthony.

Anyway, back in 1988, Mary Ann saw a picture of her neighbor Birdie Lewis in the paper because she was a leap year baby. "A light went on," says Brown, a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. "I thought, you know, if the chamber took this on as a project, we could make a promotion out of it.

"So I asked Birdie later that day to come with me to the Chamber of Commerce meeting that night," she continues. "I told Birdie that I'd pick her up at 6 o'clock. I didn't tell her anything else."

They arrived at the meeting, and Mary Ann pitched a Worldwide Leap Year Festival and a Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club to the Chamber. It was nonplussed until it bought in.

"Then I thought to myself, we might as well declare ourselves the Leap Year Capital of the World," she says. "If we don't do it, someone else will." The trifecta was complete.

The first Worldwide Leap Year Festival took place in 1988 in Joe Bob's store, Anthony Auto Parts. Nine leap year babies showed up, along with the mayor and about 40 others. Nothing shabby about that kickoff. Mary Ann says there are now about 400 members of the birthday club worldwide, and she's looking for 150 leapers to show up on the 29th for fun and games.

Now, Mary Ann was a former journalist - she published her own little "Mesilla Valley Perspective" for about five years - so she took the news up to the El Paso Times to get it in the paper and on the Associated Press wire. It ran in both.

Mary Ann then refers me to the Ask The Globe feature of this paper on Feb. 8, 1988, where, she says proudly, Anthony is mentioned in response to a reader's question about leap year festivities. Alas, I could find nothing on that day, but, hold on, Anthony was in print here on March 17, 1994.

So let us now praise Mary Ann Brown for her moxie and vision. And if Anthony isn't exactly the mouse that roared, it is, at the very least, the mouse that burped.

Sam Allis can be reached at allis@globe.com.

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