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Little men, and ladies' choice

By the turn of the last century, the only males fearing leap year were gullible school boys.

It was a terrifying threat to a little boy that he would actually have to marry that cute second-grader in the next row, just because she asked.

Guilty as charged.

It all began in that two-room schoolhouse in North Albany — for those who don’t know, it’s up in the Willamette Valley.

In that leap year of long ago, it must have been our teacher, Mrs. Wilson, who decided to tease us. She seemed so serious, but looking back, I think she must have been holding back one whopper of a laugh. She warned that we “little men” could all be married by December.


OK. Just like most little men in the second grade, I was afraid of girls. But that didn’t mean I didn’t like them as friends. One of my best friends of the feminine persuasion was Sandy. Notice how carefully I worked my way around the word “girlfriend?”

Sandy and I talked a lot, and she was always smiling at me and complimenting me about one thing or another. I suppose she was flirting, but how would I know? I was just a little man.

Well, after Mrs. Wilson’s dire warning, I didn’t know what to do. What if Sandy asked me to marry her? I didn’t even have a job, and where would we live? That was a lot of heavy thinking for a little man in the second grade. Scary too!

If only I had known then how, in the 5th century, St. Patrick had handled the situation. Maybe you remember.

While St. Patrick was driving all those snakes out of Ireland, St. Bridget, a single woman, showed up with a complaint. It was unfair, she said, that a woman had to wait for a man to propose marriage.

After some fierce haggling, the story goes, they reached a consensus — every four years a woman could ask a man to marry her.

Immediately, St. Bridget asked Pat to marry her, and he just as quickly refused. We never agreed, he said, that a man must accept.

There’s mathematical and scientific reasoning behind leap year, of course, but it doesn’t have anything to do with getting married.

Leap year is supposed to run like a clock, where every fourth year is a leap year, and a February 29th is added to the calendar, right? Well, no. Even science has its exceptions.

If you can divide a year by four, it’s a leap year — except years ending in two zeros — unless those years are evenly divisible by 400. So, 2000 (aka: Y2K) was a leap year, but 1800 and 1900 weren’t, and 2100 won’t be one either.

If you had fun with that, my friend — you’re welcome!

If I had to guess, and I think I’m on safe ground here, I don’t really think there are any women sitting on a hope chest every night, eagerly waiting for a February 29th to suddenly pop up on their calendar so they will have a legitimate right to propose to some clueless dude.

So, rest easy little men. They’re only pulling your leg.

Oh, and Sandy? As fondly as I remember that cute, blonde, second-grader of the feminine persuasion, we never got married. Sandy and I wrote a few letters back and forth after my family moved away, but one day the letters just stopped.

I suspect she moved on, having met up with an exciting little man in the third grade.

Have a safe and sane leap year.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.