January always seemed like the longest month on the calendar. It was still cold and dark when February arrived, and there were so many months ahead before we could ride our bikes to DeWitt’s Corners, or Christie Lake.
Each year, we waited patiently for Groundhog Day. Would he see his shadow? Would there be an early spring, or would there be another two months at least of these cold, grey days?
Punxsutawney Phil had predicted the onset of spring since 1890 in Pennsylvania, and his Canadian counterpart Wiarton Willie began his annual forecast in the 1950s. At our house we listened closely to both forecasts, hoping that at least one of these rodents would offer some hope of an early spring.
So, we had two possible groundhog predictions, and two different radio stations. There was CJET in Smiths Falls, and Mother would often tune in and listen to Hal Botham after we’d left for school, while she did her ironing. CFRA was her usual early morning station and we’d often hear Ken ‘General’ Grant shouting, “Forward Ho!” as we ate our puffed wheat, before walking down the lane to wait for the school bus.
I could tell that Mother was also growing weary of the long, cold days of winter and if the ‘General’ didn’t report the prediction she wanted to hear then she’d likely turn the dial to CJET hoping that Hal Botham would have another version of the groundhog’s forecast. If it was cloudy, and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we’d have an early spring – just six more weeks of winter. By the first week of February we didn’t want to hear any other forecast. Six more weeks of winter would be enough to bear, without the possibility of the season being any longer!
When I came downstairs for breakfast that Groundhog Day morning so long ago, Mother had already set up the old ironing board and was busy ironing a linen tea-towel. I asked her if she’d heard the groundhog’s prediction yet, and she didn’t look up, but continued to iron. “It’s just a myth, just folklore”, she said, and she folded the tea towel neatly, and started on the next one.
“So, he saw his shadow?” I asked. “Yes they both did.” she responded somberly, still not looking up from her work, and folded the next tea-towel.
I sat quietly at the old kitchen table, ate my bowl of puffed wheat, drank my orange juice, and took my cod liver oil capsule without even being asked. Six more weeks would have spring starting sometime in the middle of March, but now it would be even longer.
I finished my breakfast, put my dishes in the old porcelain sink, pulled on my boots and coat, grabbed my wool hat, mitts and lunch pail, and headed out the door.
As I trudged down the long, snowy lane-way to the Third Line, I felt defeated. It was sad how a couple of groundhogs that we didn’t even know could make Mother and I feel so depressed. I didn’t even understand how they could have seen their shadows that morning, because it wasn’t sunny outside at all. I couldn’t see my own shadow, and that meant that our local groundhogs wouldn’t be able to see theirs either.
I didn’t really know where Wiarton was located in Ontario, and didn’t have a clue about Pennsylvania, but I was sure that none of the groundhogs in Lanark County saw their shadows on that cloudy, grey morning in February. Maybe the other groundhogs were wrong! Maybe there would be an early spring after all! Maybe the snow would be gone soon, and I could ride my bike up to Christie Lake again. I had to stay positive. I had to keep hoping. I had to………………
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(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”