February 4, 2005
Where does Groundhog Day come from? If you’re in Europe or anywhere outside of North America you’d probably answer that by saying, "It comes from those kooks over there." If you’re in North America you probably know that it was brought here by German immigrants who believed either the badger or bear interrupted its winter hibernation on February 2nd. At least you know that if you were the sort of person who got beaten up a lot as a child. Where did the Germans get the idea from?
For that we have to turn to a substitute teacher I had when I was in my first or second year of school. It was a cold, miserable, rainy day, which I remember clearly because we had about four hours of recess while the substitute teacher sat inside and drank from her hip flask. Then we came in and got all hopped up on chocolate milk and cookies, so she decided to calm us down by telling us the story of Groundhog Day. Long, long, long ago, she said, trying to put us to sleep with repetition, people didn’t know how to predict the weather. They found that it was very difficult to build a doppler radar from mud and twigs, so they looked to the animals. They believed the bear, for instance, would know when spring was coming and would wake from his hibernation. It was important for early humans to know when spring was coming because this was when most of them paid property taxes. They sat outside the cave where the bear was sleeping. Actually I believe what happened was the chief said to one of the members of the tribe, "Grog, go sit front of bear cave. Wait bear wake up." This was so long ago that people still spoke in broken English and hadn’t yet switched over to their own language with subtitles. I also believe Grog was the tribe member who would get up in the middle of the night and, barely awake, urinate on the fire. Or the chief. We always assume that primitive people are attuned to nature in a mysterious way, but the truth is there’s nothing mysterious about it. For one thing when you sleep in a tree stump you learn to pick up on nature’s subtle signals. For another thing primitive people have usually been living in one place long enough to learn a lot of things by trial and error. Maybe the entire tribe did sit in front of the bear cave, and the next year the ones who survived said, "Forget the bears. Let’s find something smaller–like groundhogs." I think it’s an incredibly unfair stereotype to think of primitive people as having a sixth sense, especially when most of them wouldn’t survive ten minutes if dropped on Sixth Avenue during rush hour. Actually I know that so-called primitive people are, in their own way, very culturally complex, but "primitive" seems to be the best way to describe the mindset that would draw thousands of tourists to Pennsylvania in February. But I digress. After the story the substitute teacher taught us to celebrate Groundhog Day by sending us outside for six more hours of recess.
Enjoy this week’s offerings.
Here’s a truly heart-warming story about the bond formed between a little girl and some construction workers that makes you believe that we CAN make a difference when we give a child the gift of our time.
A young family moved into a house next door to a vacant lot. One day a construction crew turned up to start building a house on the empty lot. The young family’s 5-year old daughter naturally took an interest in all the activity going on next door and spent much of each day observing the workers. Eventually, the construction crew, all of them gems-in-the-rough, more or less adopted her as a kind of project mascot.
They chatted with her, let her sit with them while they had coffee and lunch breaks, and gave her little jobs to do here and there to make her feel important.
At the end of the first week they even presented her with a "pay" envelope containing a couple of dollars. The little girl took this home to her mother who said all the appropriate words of admiration and suggested that they take the two dollar "pay" she had received to the bank the next day to start a savings account.
When they got to the bank, the teller was equally impressed and asked the little girl how she had come by her very own paycheck at such a young age. The little girl proudly replied, "I worked last week with the crew building the house next door to us."
"My goodness gracious," said the teller, "and will you be working on the house again this week, too?"
The little girl replied, "I will if those jerks at Home Depot ever deliver the @#&*ing sheet rock."