My great-grandmother Berry was born on Groundhog Day. It is funny how our memory works as we remember family from our past. I really only had a glimpse into her life and, of course, now I wish we could sit knee to knee and tell each other stories. I think we would like each other.
Her eyesight was very much dimmed as an older woman, but she made quilts out of curtains and pajama scraps. I have many of those old quilts on my beds now. She also never cut her hair, so when I was little she would take the pins out and let that long gray hair cascade down her back. As a child I always thought it was made of silk, it was so soft. Hour by hour she was so patient with me as I combed through her hair.
She shared winter wisdom as well, and because she was born on Groundhog Day, she knew what she was talking about. She always announced at her birthday parties, “When the days begin to lengthen, the snow begins to strengthen.” I think of that often when the February snows blanket over our sleeping houses and towns.
Groundhog Day is the half way day between the first day of winter and the first day of spring. We love waiting for Punxsutawny Phil to be coaxed out into the first rays of morning and, with our breaths tightly held, wait for his prediction. We all know how it goes: If he sees his shadow we have six more weeks of winter and if he doesn’t? Well, spring is sure to come.
I found some rather interesting pieces of information in Bill Anderson’s book, “Groundhog Day: 1886-1992.”
Groundhog Day was first celebrated by the early Christians in Europe. The clergy blessed candles and passed them around to the parishioners in the village. I like the idea of everyone holding candles. There is an old English song telling of that time:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings cloud and rain,
Go Winter and not come again.”
When the Germans came from Europe to Pennsylvania, they brought this custom with them. They found so many groundhogs in their area that they thought them wise and intelligent and added the ritual of the groundhog. Thus, our Punxsatawny Phil was born. I did find one additional interesting tidbit, however. During Prohibition Phil declared there would be 60 more weeks of winter unless he could have a drink!
Rick Bass writes in his book “Winter,” “Be loyal to winter, all the way through — all the way and with sincerity — or you’ll find yourself high and dry, longing for a spring that is a long way off.”
Along with Groundhog Day comes the full moon on Feb. 3. This full moon is known as the Snow Moon according to the Farmer’s Almanac. If you want to celebrate (and I do) there is Snow Moon Hike at Wing Haven on Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. This hike will be led by Shane Perfect. Come on out to the cabin for some hot chocolate and then a hike down to Little Gentian Lake. I know I plan to be there. I hope the skies clear long enough for that beautiful full moon to light up the pathway. If you can’t make it out to the hike, at least take out the last of the evening cup of tea or early morning coffee to share in the beauty of this last of the winter’s full moons. By our next full moon we will be aching for spring, and it won’t be long before the peepers are out and the bikes will emerge from the garage.
Whatever Phil or anyone else has to say, here are my prophetic words … there will be six more weeks of winter with or without a shadow. Deep purple cold and white snows will grace our land for a bit longer so we might as well just put on the snow shoes and embrace the beauty.
As my guests come and go in this old purple house, I wash sheets and dishes, and read poetry by the early morning candle light to those who sit at my breakfast table. I also know that in the holy winter darkness my guests are warm under quilts made by my great-grandmother Berry. Quilt scraps of curtains and pajamas and great love keep us all tucked in until Spring.
LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories.