I WOKE UP YESTERDAY MORNING to the sound of the Kinks singing that gender-bending classic, “Lola”. I flailed around in complete disorientation until I found the proper button to turn the whole thing off, and then had one of those whacko bursts of inspiration that we love so much. I sat up, suddenly wide awake, and knew – with absolute certainty –one thing and one thing only:
The groundhog was going to see his shadow.
I don’t know where the thought came from; it’s not like I spend a whole lot of time wondering over groundhogs and their shadows, but once I woke up a bit more it made absolute sense, a no-brainer in the first degree. In a winter where the ground has been largely devoid of the white stuff, the safe bet was for six more weeks of winter. “Book it,” I thought. “Phil is going to see his shadow.”
As a kid I operated under this assumption: That on Groundhog Day, the Grand Master of All Groundhogs, Punxutawney Phil, woke up, shambled along his burrow, and poked his head out, maybe even venturing a few steps beyond like an old man coming out on his porch to get the morning paper. Then I imagined him looking around for a few second or two, and either turning and going back down to get some more shuteye, or sticking around for a while, nibbling on the grass. Meanwhile, a small crowd was gathered a respectful distance behind a classy-looking wrought iron fence, recording the moment for posterity and ready to report to a waiting world.
It took a long time – maybe even all the way until when the movie Groundhog Day came out – before I learned the reality of the situation, and that Phil’s prognostication was based entirely on the whim of some weird old guys who claimed to speak Groundhog. I had already stopped paying serious attention to the reports from Punxatawney by then, anyway, so it wasn’t really a crushing blow.
Groundhog Day is one of those things that can be filed under the heading ‘You can’t make this shit up.’ A weather-forecasting marmot? Really? And a town that’s managed to build a big part of its economy off of said marmot? If you were a visitor to American and got dropped into Punxutawney, PA on the morning of February 2, what would you think? (Note to self: we have exchange students visiting from Brazil, Australia, France and Italy – ask the kids to ask the exchange students if they have anything like this in their countries) And that got me thinking: Every culture has its oddities, the strange holidays and habits that we largely take for granted if we live with them. And ‘culture’ doesn't just mean a nation - 'culture' extends all the way down into small social groups, too. For years, my friends and I had a ‘holiday’ that we celebrated every year, called ‘Castlegiving’.
We gathered up at some bar or other on Thanksgiving Eve for a night of revelry. At 2 in the morning we made the trek to a particular White Castle that, for one reason or another, we had dubbed ‘the Mecca of White Castles’ for a feast, which included a ‘benediction’ and speeches. Seriously. Castlegiving ran for 7 or 8 years, and one of our friends even called in to the pay phone in the parking lot as a way to participate by proxy (this was when cell phones were expensive and very large, so nobody had them). Again, file it under ‘You can’t make this shit up.’
As writers, we have to ‘make this shit up’ all the time. Groundhog Day, Castlegiving, whatever – what kind of strange things have you made up?
Have a great weekend, all!
Gobblers’ Knob photo by Voteprime http://www.flickr.com/photos/capitalq/
White Castle photo by John Uleis