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The groundhog is useful for more than just a shadow

Groundhog Day

Old Groundhog stretched in his leafy bed.

He turned over slowly and then he said,

"I wonder if spring is on the way,

I'll go and check the weather today.

If I see my shadow between eleven and noon,

I then will know that I'm out too soon.

I'll crawl back in bed for six weeks more,

Pull up the warm covers and snore and snore.

But if no shadow gives me a scare,

I know that spring is in the air,

I'll wake my friends and wish them cheer,

With glorious news that spring is here."

Author Unknown

The old mountain folklore that a groundhog can predict the coming of spring has existed for more than 150 years. If a groundhog climbs out of his burrow and sees his shadow between eleven o'clock and noon, it frightens him so that he dives back into his warm bed and sleeps for six more weeks until spring comes.

On the other hand, if the day is cloudy and he doesn't see his shadow he stays above ground and spring comes earlier. From the second day of February until the first official day of spring, it is approximately six weeks. So either way, we can plan on six more weeks of bad weather.

 The groundhog is also called a woodchuck, and is a furry little mammal that loves to make its burrow in open fields. They are considered a pest by most farmers, who employ various means to eradicate the plump little varmints from their fields.

 They can be a lifesaver however. When we had our own little recession while living on the old Jackson County farm, it was our main source of food one long summer. We ate so much groundhog that our son Mike, who was just past four, would ask for "groundhog please" when any kind of meat was served after we came back home.

 Groundhog is quite palatable if it is fixed right. Every recipe that I research calls for a long soaking (overnight) in cold salt water. The kernels under the front legs must be removed to reduce the gamey taste. I liked to parboil the cut-up pieces with spicewood twigs until tender, and roll them in flour, salt and pepper and fry in hot oil. My mother particularly liked young groundhog prepared like fried chicken.

 The first groundhog that I remember eating was served by my Aunt Ruby when she lived on Twistabout Ridge. I was seated beside my cousin Garrett Dale, and Aunt Ruby picked up the back portion and divided it between me and Garrett. He promptly burst into tears. (We were both just youngsters.)

 Mom asked, "What is the matter with him?" Aunt Ruby replied, "Alyce Faye got all the marrow!" So Mom took the marrow and divided it between me and my cousin. But I didn't cry.

 People may scoff at the idea of eating groundhog, but if a person gets hard up enough, they would appreciate a nice fat leg. Criss has often said that if it weren't for Smoky, our 'coon and groundhog dog, we probably would have gone hungry. He would tree or hole a groundhog almost every day. One time he was fighting a groundhog in a hole, and he got so tired that he sat down on top of the hole and rested. He got it.

 February is the shortest month of the year, but sometimes it feels like the longest. Winter is not finished with us yet, and as we grow more anxious for spring and warm weather, we sometimes get impatient. This month is the time to dig sassafras roots for that divine springtime tonic, although it probably could have been dug anytime this winter. It needs to be dug before the sap starts up the trunk, and the soil has not been frozen hard all winter.

 Just the thought of a fragrant cup of the reddish liquid is enough to cure me of the winter doldrums. The colorful seed catalogs that arrive in the dead of winter are another cheerer-upper. Team that with a cup of sassafras tea, and you can almost feel the soft, warm breezes of spring waft across your face.

 My mouth waters at the pictures of red, luscious tomatoes and crisp green cucumbers. Visions of bowls of tender, sweet string beans surrounded by a platter of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers dim the reality of snow-covered gardens and bring fresh hope.

It is wonderful how our Father has set the universe in motion.  Psalms 104 is a song of praise to the Maker for His wonderful works. It begins with verse 1, "Bless the Lord, O my soul.  O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honor and majesty."

Verses 13 and 14 says, "He watereth the hills from His chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man; that he may bring forth food out of the earth."

Our Father has His hand over us, and we can rejoice in the fact that spring will come again, and the earth produce once more.

Well, it seems that last week was for making errors. Lisa McCracken of Town Center Mall alerted me to the fact that I had omitted the first verse of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." I knew better; I was not thinking. The verse goes like this:

                                    "Whose woods these are I think I know

                                    His house is in the village though,

                                    He will not see me stopping here

                                    To see his woods fill up with snow."

Then I need to correct something in "Cousin Tony's Great Maple Syrup Adventure." His sister Phyllis made pancakes, not biscuits. Although she can turn out a lovely pan of biscuits, maple syrup calls for pancakes.

My sister Mary Ellen corrected the statement that Daddy brought us in maple bark to scrape -- it wasn't maple bark; it was sweet birch bark. Well, she IS five years younger than I am!

We have a request that I hope someone can fill. Bill Huffman, of Manning, S.C., is searching for a white on white double wedding ring quilt. He would like a queen size one; however, the older quilts were not made in queen size.

 I hope I have this right, but I believe Bill is Dr. Huffman's son from Gassaway. He added a P.S. to his letter. "I am moving back home to West Virginia!"

Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at alycefaye@citlink.net or write to 2556 Summers Fork Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.


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