Groundhogs and Love

I am about to make my mom cry. I will no doubt shed some tears myself before I get done with the telling. But I have to tell it because it’s a sweet, beautiful love story. And in 1963, it became my story.

Most people only think of February 2 as the day when a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil pokes his head out so we can check if he sees his shadow, and somehow that predicts the weather. If the little rodent sees his shadow, we are headed into six more weeks of winter. If, however, he does not see his shadow, we can anticipate an early spring.

Way back in 1952, the groundhog did, in fact, see his shadow. But here’s something else that was seen on that day. It wasn’t on the news, nor did President Truman even catch a glimpse of it. Perhaps he should have, though, since the story involved a man who had fought valiantly in Italy in WWII:  A soldier who saved the lives of the men in his unit by warning them away from a farmhouse that would have blown them to bits had they crossed the threshold. A soldier whose own life would have been snuffed out had he not heeded the voice that urged him away from the haystack he hunkered behind. A soldier who crossed the Po River with three eggs in his pocket for a midnight breakfast on the other side. A soldier who was awarded three bronze stars.

In 1952, that former decorated soldier studied to earn his teacher’s certificate while a young female student worked in the college registrar’s office. The Lord made sure their paths crossed multiple times in the preceding months, and their first date occurred on Groundhog’s Day, 1952. Eleven weeks later, on April 20, they married. The woman justified their very short engagement by declaring, “If you know he’s the right one, why wait?”

Two years later, their first child, a girl, entered the world. After that, three boys, including a set of twins, came along. In 1963, their only dark-haired child was born. (And thanks to my good friend, Loreal, I am still dark-haired.) Their last child, a boy, whom I knew was born solely to irritate and kick me adore, came the month after my second birthday.

A snapshot of my childhood:  station wagon, milk cows, bowling league, black and white television with a knob, telephone party line, root beer floats, swimming in the lake, rafts on the pond, tadpoles in jars, traipsing through the woods, linoleum, shag carpet, Big Chief tablets, five-cent milks and orange sherbet push-ups, kittens, puppies, rainbows and unicorns. There might even have been some teenage drama and ridiculous behavior in there as well, but I won’t discuss my sister right now.

Meanwhile, my parents were married and enjoying it for the most part, I think. If I were to describe their marriage in a few words, I would choose committed and fun. My dad loved to laugh, and he especially enjoyed playing practical jokes on others and making them laugh. My reserved, somewhat shy mother’s eyebrows remained in a constantly raised state because of my father’s humor and antics.

Even in the laughter, though, their life together was not always easy, and sometimes it was terribly difficult. They endured financial strain and stressful job situations, as well as a house fire that destroyed nearly all their possessions. But nothing was as physically and emotionally trying as my dad’s diagnosis of stage III lung cancer in early 2000, and his subsequent treatments and illness.

Dad, husband to my mom for 49 years, passed away May 20, 2001. That year the shadow of the groundhog predicted a longer winter. I don’t remember any weather details of that time, but I do remember the abysmal ache of loss we felt when death cast its shadow over us. Our family grieved the absence of the man who was husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. The rest of Mom’s days yawned before her like a hollow chasm, and she sorrowfully but determinedly envisioned spending the rest of her life alone. It seemed winter had come to stay.

However, that was not to be, for God began to reveal His desire to give my mom the gift of another love by orchestrating events to bring her and an old acquaintance together. Neither of them would have chosen the paths of grief they were forced to walk, but they gratefully embraced their second chance at love. In 2005, the 73-year-olds married in the same month old Phil saw his shadow.

In her loss, when all Mom could see before her was a long winter of loneliness, God, in His goodness, blessed her with an early spring of love.

In 1952 and in 2005, the groundhog got it wrong.

Janice Powell 2013

You may read more of Mom’s story here: Marvelous Things

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