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When we spoke on Monday, John Peitzsche was pretty pumped about his birthday party this coming Saturday. Why shouldn’t he be?
His brother Ralph is flying all the way in from British Columbia for the occasion.
His daughter Tammy and her husband will also be the Smitty’s Family Restaurant on Halifax’s Lacewood Drive, where his wife Annie has reserved a banquet room.
So will 20-or-so other friends, from as far away as Rawdon Hills.
“It’s a big day for me,” he said. I’ll say.
On Feb. 29, he turns 80, a milestone for anyone, but an even bigger one for Peitzsche, whose friends call him Jack.
The calendar in use in most of the world has 365-and-one-quarter days, because that is how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun.
Every four years that extra day is made up for by adding a Feb. 29, which happens to be the day on which Peitzsche was born, in 1940 in the now-abandoned mining town of Goldfields, Sask.
All of which is simply a long way of saying that Peitzsche, a leap year baby, only gets to celebrate a birthday every four years.
Saturday will be the 20th time the 80-year-old gets to make such an occasion.
Stories will be told, Happy Birthday sung, cake eaten.
“Oh jeez, you couldn’t put 80 candles on it or you’d risk burning the place down,” Peitzsche said.
If he sounded eager perhaps it's because it's been awhile. He spent his last birthday, in 2016, in the hospital recovering from surgery from a leg aneurysm.
Then again when you have so few, every one of them is memorable.
As we sat in the north-end Halifax apartment where he and his wife live, he rattled off the details of birthday parties past.
The time when he was just a teen in the interior British Columbia, that the wife of the farmer he worked for made him a special turkey dinner.
The time in Lahr, Germany — Peitzsche joined the Canadian air force at 18, and spent six years at the base there — when a bunch of co-workers surprised him at a gasthof.
The free steak and drink every birthday celebrant gets at Mother Webb’s Restaurant in Antigonish.
But also 20 years ago, when his younger brother Ralph made the trip, as did his daughter Kelly, who lives in San Diego, Calif., and her newborn son Jack, to celebrate their 60-year-old dad’s 15th birthday at the Eastern Passage Lions Club. (“I remember thinking at the time,” Peitzsche said, “hard to believe, eh?”)
Number 20 is going to be a special one. He’s had an eventful run: an air force career that also brought him to the Shearwater and Greenwood bases; a post-military life that included working for aeronautics company IMP Group. He and Annie had three kids, two of them who still live in Nova Scotia.
Plus, time is moving on. Four of his six siblings have died. A sister suffers from dementia.
Peitzsche isn’t as spry as he once was either. Because of leg weakness he uses a walker now, which sat beside his chair as we talked.
A couple of years ago, while taking down the Christmas lights at the old Peitzsche-family house in Goldboro — his family ended up there in the mid-1800s after emigrating from Germany — he fell and hit his head, causing a nasty wound.
“Blood everywhere,” he told me, pointing to a scar near his right temple, before going into some of the gory details.
He’s got an appointment with the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s falls clinic coming up.
Except he’s really not one to dwell on these sorts of things.
Peitzsche told me that when he first landed at 14 Wing Greenwood in 1959, he knew the names of precisely three people, two uncles and an aunt, in all of Nova Scotia.
On Saturday, a couple of dozen folks will be there to help a man with plenty of experience celebrate his 20th birthday.
The event starts at 6 p.m. But he’ll be there around 5:30. Or, who knows, if he can’t contain himself, maybe even a little earlier. These days only come around every so often for him. He likes to make the most of them.