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Little Groundhog down below…

January 31, 2013

ImageFebruary the Second is my favorite day of the year!  It’s Groundhog’s Day!

Can you think of a sillier holiday than one celebrating the shadow-spotting talents of a rodent?  “If the Groundhog sees his shadow, it means that there are still six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, it means that spring is only six weeks away.”

Can you think of a holiday that is more pointless than this one?

I can’t.

That means it is the perfect excuse just to do something fun.

And even better if you can do something ridiculous with someone else.  Share the hilarity!

My Mom and I used to celebrate Ground Hog’s day together—we made a great team.  What made the day special was the fact that we celebrated it together, even if everyone else thought we were just a little bit crazy for doing so.  Everyone.  But oh how we would laugh it up!

Not being one of the traditional Hallmark holidays, finding a card or some other recognition of the holiday was always difficult.  In January, the stores swapped out their holiday ornaments for big red boxes of candy and greeting cards for kids to share with their kindergarten classmates.  Roses could be found anywhere, even if looking a bit tired and faded, but not a single store carried a line of appropriate Groundhog’s Day product.  Not one.  They still don’t.  If you want something for Groundhog’s Day, you have to make it yourself.  But that is ok.  Everyone knows that if you make it by hand, it is an instant heirloom.

Yes, Mom and I would anxiously await the prognostication of Punxsutawney Phil, of Philadelphia, because he was the nation’s Prognosticator-in-chief.  No other Groundhog would do.  And getting the prediction correct was difficult business, the sort of feat about which the minstrels would sing.  Or at least the amateur prose poets.  Like me.

I was determined to be among those who roamed the land singing laudatory praises of our friend Phil.  I learned a real gem in Mike Thibodeau’s third-grade class at the Morison Memorial Elementary.  (Mr. Thibodeau, who is gone now, was a great teacher.  He used to have us copy in to our notebooks the poetry of Shel Silverstein as a way to practice our cursive handwriting.  Sometimes, he would bring in other valuable quotations or life’s lessons for us to copy and recopy as we struggled in our penmanship lessons to make our letters slant toward the right, or to the left depending on one’s dominant hand.)  Yes, on Groundhog’s Day 1982, we learned this little ditty.


Little Groundhog


Little Groundhog down below

Underneath the wintry snow,

Come out and tell us true,

Is Spring Coming?

Is Winter through?



We were given a paper sandwich bag, some manila paper, a popsicle stick, scissors and crayons and shown how to create a Groundhog pop-up puppet.  To the front of our creation, we attached a neatly tri-folded copy of the poem we had just learned, expertly written on the good white penmanship paper (not that ugly yellow kind that was rough to the touch, but far cheaper).  I still have mine.  (Keep in mind that at the time, the u’s and the w’s weren’t all that evident to string together with the other letters!)

            For Mom and me, Groundhog’s Day was a great day for story-telling. It was usually too cold to really go outside and enjoy the usual games anyway.  Mom told me once about a surprise that had once befallen her grandmother, Marion Rowe, as she went out to chop a bit of firewood for the old black stove in the kitchen and for a small fire she intended to build in the yard.

Grammy Rowe, as she was always known to Mom and us kids, once owned the land upon which my Dad built our home in 1984.  The picturesque old homeplace sits not so high up on the ridge that it leaves one with the aftertaste of judgment in one’s mouth—though as a good Baptist, Grammy Rowe sometimes had that effect on people.  Having passed away in 1975, my personal memories of her are few, but her nephew Robert Parsons recalls her outspoken disdain for the hippies of her latter days.  In reality, Grammy Rowe’s house was romantically placed just out of reach of us, owned by another family by then, a few hundred yards away from our home.  Its front door and driveway opened on to the Marsh Road, a left hand turn from our place as you head in to town, off the Hudson Road where I grew up.  It was a grand old white house, a Victorian with an imposing stature.  Looking out from its back lawn, one sees the panorama of the whole valley spread out like a picture, with all its varied terrain (garden, pasture, woodland, etc.) stitched together like split-oak fences resembling nothing so much as a green-hued quilt in summer.  For Groundhog’s Day though, the view was of a cold and chilly expanse of white.

On this one particular Groundhog’s day, the temperatures had climbed just enough that Grammy Rowe had decided that it would be a good idea to go out in to the back yard, chop a bit of wood, and fire up the lye pot to make some new soap, fearing of course that she wouldn’t have enough to make the winter without it.  Out by the old tree, she used a fallen stick to get under the upturned old pot, getting ready to add her supplies when all of the sudden, a brown furry creature dashes out from beneath it.


Little Groundhog down below,

Underneath the blackened kettle,

How dare you, sir,

Frighten and unsettle

Our little Grammy Rowe?


Startled and caught off guard, Grammy Rowe, then in her seventies, stumbled backward and landed in a bed of white snow.  Harumph!  “Oh you silly beast,” she shouted, amid the raucous laughter of her granddaughter, Marion, who had stopped by for a visit that day.

            Tell a story.  Write a poem.  Do something you wouldn’t normally do.  But above all, have a little fun and think of Mom and me—fans till the end of a silly little holiday of no consequence.  And if you should feel inclined, feel free to send me a hand-made card celebrating the best of all of our holidays.  I will cherish it as the heirloom that it undoubtedly was intended to be.

            Happy Groundhog’s Day!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Olinick, Judy permalink
    January 31, 2013 12:01 pm

    This is great James,
    I love your reminiscences about your mother. It’s 52 degrees and pouring rain in Middlebury right now. Plunging temps and high winds expected a little later today.
    How is Melissa?


  2. Anne Healy permalink
    February 8, 2013 9:28 pm

    You never cease to amaze……I’m sure Marion is laughing and celebrating the day with all around her.

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