“If I was born two minutes later, I would have a different birthday,” Joseph Sferlazza said.
For most people, two minutes wouldn’t have made a difference in the grand scheme of things. But for Mr. Sferlazza, a former Riverhead High School teacher who was born at 11:58 p.m. Feb. 29, 1952, those 120 seconds put him in the rarefied company of having a leap year birthday, which he will celebrate Monday.
The Southold resident and noted local musician, who plays under the name Southold Slim, said he and his mother have a running joke that she couldn’t wait just two more minutes. He insists, however, that he loves being born on the date, which only appears on the calendar every four years.
“I felt special,” Mr. Sferlazza said, adding that as a child he celebrated his birthday every year. “Other kids thought it was amazing; teachers fawn over you a little bit … You get a lot of positive attention for a special day.”
According to CNN, four million people worldwide were born Feb. 29. The chances of that happening are 1 in 1,461, certainly making it “special.”
The extra day tacked onto February compensates for the fact that it takes Earth 365 days and six hours to complete a revolution around the sun.
In Greenport, twins Bob and Everett Corwin will be turning 44 — or 11 — on Monday. Jake Nolan of Cutchogue will celebrate his fifth leap year birthday when he turns 20.
Riverhead resident Carole Brush said she loves the uniqueness of her birthday now, but didn’t always feel that way as a child.
“I always felt left out,” she said. “I thought I wasn’t important because I didn’t have a birthday [every year]. As a child, you don’t really understand the whole thing.”
Ms. Brush said she was “a little more naïve growing up” and failed to realize her birthday didn’t occur annually until she was around 12. Mr. Sferlazza said he noticed in preschool, when his birthday was missing on the calendar displaying all of his classmates’ special days.
Now that Ms. Brush has embraced her birthday, one of the biggest thrills is being able to tell everyone she’s turning 18 on Monday instead of 72. For the three consecutive years when February ends on the 28th, Ms. Brush celebrates that day, which was also her grandfather’s birthday. It allows her to keep the same birthstone in all of her jewelry, she added with a laugh.
Francis Zambito of Laurel, who is the same age as Ms. Brush, feels similarly about keeping her birthday in February and also celebrates on the 28th.
Mr. Sferlazza, 64, celebrates on the Friday or Saturday closest to Feb. 29, making his birthday fall on a different day each year. But the parties are always bigger, he said, when his birthday actually appears on the calendar. Next week, he’ll celebrate his 16th calendar birthday with extended family and friends. On non-leap years, he celebrates by having dinner with his family.
When Mr. Sferlazza was younger, he’d walk into parties wearing a diaper. After all, he was technically only celebrating his fourth or fifth birthday.
“Mentally, I feel more like 16,” he said, “but physically I definitely feel 64.”
Ms. Zambito said her leap year birthday is always filled with jokes from family and friends. She’ll be celebrating her 18th leap year birthday. Her grandson, Eddie, enjoys that he’s now the “same” age as his grandmother.
Ms. Zambito’s daughter, Mary Dowling, said her family makes sure she doesn’t drink during her birthday parties, since she’s technically underage. All jokes aside, however, Ms. Zambito and her relatives love that she was born on leap day. A big celebration is planned every four years.
“It feels great,” she said of seeing her birthdate on the calendar this year. “People get a kick out of it.”
Photo: Francis Zambito of Laurel and Joseph Sferlazza of Southold both have leap year birthdays. Ms. Zambito, 72, is celebrating her 18th on Monday and Mr. Sferlazza, 64, his 16th. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)