Groundhog Day is a special holiday for my family, with a memorable, fun tradition from my childhood.
The telephone would ring several times before it was answered. I could visualize my grandma making her way through her apartment to where the black rotary dial phone rested on a side table. Her hello was warm, welcoming and so familiar. I looked forward to calling her every February 2nd, to hear her voice and have a conversation. Groundhog Day was simple, it involved a rodent and a long distance phone call yet it became one of my favorite traditions. Long before the internet, or before CNN became mainstream, I learned the news of whether we were in for six more weeks of winter from my grandma. It made sense to call her. She was, after all in Butler, Pennsylvania, a mere 61 miles from where Punxsutawney Phil popped out to discover if he would see his shadow.
As it can be with traditions, I don’t remember how or when our Groundhog Day tradition started. There were times when I’d miss calling on the 2nd, and would call a few days later. The announcement was still fresh to me, but even if it wasn’t, I liked hearing it from my grandma. While the intent was to find out if spring was upon us, it was more about having a heart-to-heart. Discussions moved past “that silly groundhog” (as she called him on more than one occasion) to cousin updates and great-grandkid birthdays.
Mobile phones soon made it easy to call early morning on my commute to school or work. She would be surprised to hear I was in the car and those conversations tended to wrap up more quickly. Subtle changes in her voice, or the number of rings it took to answer were clues she was starting to slow down. One year she’d forgotten the holiday all together, yet it didn’t stop us from having a lovey chat. The calls continued until she was no longer there to answer them. By this time, the internet had taken over. Headlines splashed the news of Punxsutawney Phil, and I’d quietly reflect on the special meaning the silly groundhog held.
When feeling nostalgic, I called my aunt who lives in New Jersey. Not exactly Pennsylvania, but closer than my west coast location! We’d laugh and catch up. I’d remind her how nice it was to hear her voice, which has a similar tone to my Grandmas.
As Groundhog Day approached last year, my son found it quite amusing that a rodent became forecaster for a day. He heard stories of conversations with my grandma, “my great-grandma,” he’d add, and asked if we could call someone. Absolutely. We called my aunt, put her on speaker and she shared the report of Punxsutawney Phil. The voice at the other end was familiar and welcoming; it brought comfort to me, and a smile to my son’s face.
The Groundhog Day prediction will be easily accessible via computer the morning of February 2nd. My son is already wondering what Phil will see, or not see this year. However, we will take the time to make a phone call, connect to a voice, not the internet. Silly groundhog aside, traditions are traditions.