“Good morning, handsome!”
It was February 1, and my alarm had barely stopped beeping. With a groan, I pried apart my heavy eyelids to peer blearily at my wife who was hovering over me with a cherubic grin. She planted a big juicy smackaroo on my somnolent physiognomy.
“What’s going on?” I muttered.
“Nothing particular. I’m just excited! It’s February.” She raised her eyebrows and her eyes took on the look that every husband dreads. It was the look that meant she expected me to be reading her mind.
I tried to stall for time. “Whad’ya know? February already. Isn’t that something? Where does time go?”
She inclined her head slightly and bored into me with those eyes. Evidently my stalling was not doing the trick. I needed to carefully attempt to milk a hint from her while simultaneously bluffing that I had some clue what she was talking about. I winked conspiratorially. “Hey, you know what February means.”
Her eyes twinkled with what I desperately hoped was not mockery. “Yes I do. Do you?”
“Do I? Oh, do I ever. Yes I do. You betcha.”
“Good, I wouldn’t want you to forget this year.”
There was a useful hint. It meant that some event was coming up which I was expected to remember. A recurring annual event. It must be a special day. February. Hmmm. A special day in February that would prompt my wife to wake me in a flirtatious mood. The pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. Now I saw what she was driving at.
I assumed my most wounded look. “Sugar dumpling, I’m hurt. I would never forget such an important day.”
“You forgot last year.”
“Did not. I just didn’t make a big deal out of it, because I wasn’t sure it was something you took an interest in.”
She bopped me with a pillow. “You weren’t sure I took an interest in it? What on earth would give you that idea?” She bopped me again. Repeatedly.
I fended off the flurry of blows as I tried to explain. “I just didn’t think it was necessary to expend a lot of time and money honoring a short fat hairy creature whose cuteness is overrated.”
The flurry became a blizzard, complete with howling wind. The howling wind was emanating from my wife’s mouth. Her romantic mood seemed to be deteriorating.
“Thanks a lot, Valentine! You really know how to make a girl feel special!”
“Ok, OK! I’m sorry. Ow! It wasn’t personal.”
“It wasn’t personal!? It wasn’t PERSONAL! Oooh! You…. you… insensitive BRUTE, you!” Visibility in the bedroom dropped to near whiteout conditions as the pillow broke open and began disgorging feathers. “How is it ‘not personal’ to call your wife a — How did you put that? — ‘a short fat hairy creature whose cuteness is overrated’?”
I wasn’t sure what was happening, but it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. “I was just kidding.” I wailed, “Yeah, yeah, that’s it! I was kidding.”
Since the feathers had all been beaten out of the pillow by now, she punctuated each word with a surprisingly painful lash from the limp pillowcase. “You… Were… NOT… Kidding! You… Did… Too… Mean… It! I… Saw… It… In… Your… Eyes. You… JERK!”
Oh, so now not only was I supposed to read her mind, but she was claiming to be able to read my mind, too. She was right, of course. I hadn’t been kidding, but that was only because I hadn’t been talking about her at all! Covering my head with my arms, I tried to escape her wrath by burrowing under my covers reminiscent of Punxsutawney Phil, the short, fat hairy creature, to whom I had been referring.
Good grief! Such a fuss over Groundhog Day. We don’t even have groundhogs in Alaska.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this great American tradition, let me fill in the blanks. What happens at about 7:30 in the morning at Gobbler’s Knob, just outside Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is that the behavior of an esteemed rodent, one, Phil the Groundhog, holds the fate of Spring in his fuzzy little paw. Everybody gathers around the critter’s den with whetted anticipation, wondering if Punxsy Phil will announce that winter is over, or if it will hang on for another six weeks
Phil’s prediction is based on whether or not he can see his shadow when he pokes his head out to determine what all the ruckus is about. I never could understand how they know if Phil can see his shadow or not. Just because the crowd can see his shadow doesn’t mean Phil can. Does Phil have his own personal optometrist on staff? I doubt it.
Anyway, the legend of Groundhog Day is based on an old saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
I am one of probably 300 people on the planet who have actually been to Punxsutawney. It’s an understated little burg with its most prominent feature being Gobbler’s Knob, where Phil lives. Gobbler’s Knob consists of a gaudy green and red sign in front of a big tree stump with a door cut into it. This stump serves as Punxsutawney Phil’s front door. When he’s not hiding inside, he lounges around, looking bored and eating peanuts that tourist throw him. The only tourists that visit Gobbler’s Knob are eclectic, pocket protector wearing fans of Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy about a meteorologist and his producer caught in a time loop.
The film doesn’t appeal to everybody. Most people would be embarrassed to admit that they watched it. You have to have a very sophisticated sense of humor to appreciate it. So on my visit to Punxsutawney, I made sure I threw Phil an extra peanut to compensate for all the bad jokes that have been made at his expense. Let people laugh. At least Phil’s forecast is more reliable than the National Weather Service.
Furthermore, anyone who inspires a raft of imposters must be doing something right. Some of Phil’s imitators include Dunkirk Dave, Peewee the Woodchuck, and Staten Island Chuck. There’s also “Balzac Billy, the Prairie Prognosticator”, a young upstart groundhog in Alberta Canada. Buckeye Chuck is from Marion Ohio. General Beauregard Lee makes his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Georgia. Shubenacadie Sam prognosticates from Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia. Smith Lake Jake searches for his shadow at 10 am every February 2 at the Birmingham Zoo in Birmingham, Alabama. Sir Walter Wally and several of his friends emerge from their winter hibernation each Groundhog Day at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Oh, and we must not forget Wiarton Willie who hails from the South Brice Peninsula in Ottowa, Canada.
When I was a kid in Moose Hole, Alaska, we couldn’t find any groundhogs, so we had to settle for a ground squirrel that Rory Smithers caught in his live trap. We named him “Moose Hole Monte”. We built a little house for him out behind Jerry Frendlin’s dad’s shed and sold admission tickets for the big prognostication ritual on Groundhog Day.
Disappointingly, on February 1st, Mr. Frendlin accidentally backed over Monte’s house and squished him. We held an emergency meeting. Having already spent the money from the tickets we had sold, it was imperative that we come up with a prognosticator. Weasel Conklin offered to lend us his pet snake, Slinky, but that offer was vetoed on the grounds that snakes don’t cast much of a shadow. Even if they did, I don’t think Slinky would have been cute enough to maintain a fan base.
In the end, we used our Groundhog Day crowd to hold memorial services for Monte, and then Rory, Jerry and I had to work all summer peeling logs for Walrus Fahnestock’s dad to earn enough money to pay back the ticket purchasers.
All of this I tried to explain to my wife as the last of the pillow feathers settled from the air around me. It was like talking to a brick wall–a brick wall, mind you, that can make the most intimidating faces, and dismissive little snorts. It turns out; she didn’t have the slightest interest in Groundhog Day. She was obsessed with Valentine’s Day, of all things! Perhaps someday if I can trick her into watching the movie, she might change her attitude.
I finally had to abandon pointing out the reasons why Groundhog Day was a much more enriching tradition than Valentine’s Day. The rest of the day didn’t go so well. We didn’t talk much. Of course I wouldn’t have had much time for conversation anyway when I was concentrating on picking 5 million feathers out of the bedclothes and carpet.
I was happy to get to bed that night. My neck and low back were killing me. Before my head hit my repaired pillow, I was asleep.
As the alarm clock beeped me awake the next morning, I sensed someone standing over me. With a groan, I pried apart my heavy eyelids to peer blearily at my grinning wife. She planted a big juicy smackaroo on my somnolent physiognomy.
“Good morning, handsome!”
This was going to be a really long day!