I've always liked Groundhog Day. Why I would be attracted to a holiday hosted by a sleepy, overfed rodent is a mystery, even to me. After all, there are no great Groundhog gifts, no funny Groundhog cards and no traditional groundhog feasts. It's hard to find a good Groundhog party nowadays, and my favorite bakery doesn't even offer groundhog cookies, groundhog cakes or groundhog pie
Some might even say that Groundhog day is a day based on false hope.
After all, who really believes that the first days of February could also mark the first moments of spring? Even coastal North Carolina, where we currently spend our time, still suffers from its cold season on February second, while the folks back home in Illinois got hit by winter in the biggest possible way on and about that particular day.
But still, there's something about this time of year that begins to give us a faint inkling of the good, glorious things that might come next.
In the Catholic Church, February second marks Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Ritual Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with the real end of the Christmas season, which would, I think, naturally turn our thoughts to the yearly blessings of springtime and Easter.
The days are getting longer, too, with the sun occasionally warming enough to produce a hint of what's to come. And slowly, subtly. but surely, the wind has begun to shift, inch by inch, from a northborn blast to an insistent, southern swirl that promises new life, renewed hope and the balmy miracle of spring.
Early February saw a wintery blast here in Carolina, too. Or at least that's what the forecasters had in mind when they predicted a possible three to four inches of snow inland, with a chance for an inch here on the shore. The next morning offered a cold, steady rain, but nothing more. But, as is sometimes the case everywhere, some schools and businesses reacted to the forecast before waiting for the reality, with a few cancelations and several late starts among the area school districts.
But the most notable case of jumping the gun occurred at Camp Lejeune, home of over 40,000 U.S. Marines and their families. Now, I have a tremendous respect for those Marines and their supreme ruggedness and bravery in the face of great danger and the most unfriendly conditions. So I was a little startled when the USMC canceled classes at all their on-base schools, and virtually shut down shop at the base except for the most vital of operations and services.
It was enough to make me fire off a new version of their recruiting slogan that might go something like this:
Marines. The Few. The Proud. The Overly Cautious.
A friend asked that question the other day via email, wondering why I hadn't mentioned our stripey, surly semi-pet in my tales of our southward stay. We--and he, I guess--decided that he'd skip the long, wintry drive south and stay home in Illinois for this first foray, at least, safe in the care of his devoted cat-whisperer Shannon, who has trudged back and forth between her home and ours to provide him with food, company and a way in and out of the house, depending on the weather and his clearly stated moods and preferences. Even though she has assured me of his continuing good health and spirits, it took a cell phone photo from son Colin to truly reassure me. Colin came down from Fargo with his family last weekend for a visit to his wife's clan in Galesburg. They stayed in our Galva house and he sent a cell-shot captioned "proof of life," showing Max in all his irascible wintertime-plump glory, chowing down in the kitchen.
Thanks, Colin. Thanks, Shannon.
See you soon, Max.
Another February day of note was, of course, Valentine's Day. I've been married for nearly four decades, so I really do know what should be expected of me on February 14th. But without a television-driven barrage of messages from Hallmark, Fanny May, FTD and Teleflora to remind me of what I oughta do and why I oughta do it, I clean forgot. It wasn't until she took my arm on our morning beach walk that day and called me her valentine that I remembered, with a guilty little start that cause me to look at my feet in shame and embarrassment.
There, nestled in the sand, was a half-broken shell, wind-smoothed into just the right kind of shape.
"This is all I have for you," I said, as I handed it to her.
"That's all I want," she smiled.
There are a lot of ways to say "I love you," I guess. But for me, at that place and time, giving a heart-shaped shell as a valentine and truly getting away with it, said them all.