2 had never ever been important in her life. It is not that Lucy
was unfamiliar with the date or was ignorant about the significance
people attach to this day. She was born and brought up in Pennsylvania
and came across this date year after year. She clearly remembered
the excitement people in her neighborhood expressed on this date
when she was grew up as a child in Hershey. Contrary to what was
happening around her, she was always a firm believer in science,
seeking logical explanations for everything and not at all influenced
by myths, magic or miracles.
She was never convinced
by anything short of scientific proof and validation. Her conviction
in her own belief was so strong that she neither felt hurt if somebody
called her a snob nor did she ever restrain herself from mocking
others who believed in heir say, gossips or hypothetical marvels.
Her school education in science and her finally opting for a nursing
profession made her beliefs even stronger. She accepted nothing
but evidence- based information. Lucy settled down in Philadelphia
and Thomas Jefferson Hospital became a permanent place of work and
worship for her.
After taking her last sip of coffee, Lucy looked at the calendar
hanging on the wall. February 2 was smiling at her with a grin.
It was too early for anything to happen. Jack was sleeping in his
room. She had seen him a while ago. With an outside temperature
of 10OF, even though the thermometer on the wall displayed a room
temperature of 74O F she tucked in his comforter around him to keep
him warm. She looked at the angel like expression on his innocent
little face for a few moments as if she was taking a series of his
snaps one after other. With a gentle affectionate pat on his head
she returned to the living room.
She was conscious
of the fact that it was too early but still decided to switch on
the television. What a paradox ! It was biting cold outside her
house and people on the TV show were talking about global warming.
A direct telecast from Paris was airing the views of scientists
from 113 countries who issued a landmark report saying that they
have little doubt global warming is caused by man. They predicted
that hotter temperatures and rises in sea level will "continue
for centuries" no matter how much humans control their pollution.
As an educated professional Lucy was conscious about environment
and ecological changes but lately she was more concerned about present
than future. Her immediate desire was that this winter passes off
quickly and spring arrives soon, sooner than expected.
Lucy knew that there
was still some time for the local news telecast. She looked through
the window panes. Even with the early morning darkness she could
see a white blanket of snow spread all over the place. Roads, houses,
trees everything was painted white with snow. Even though the collection
of snow was not more than 2 inches, with no moving traffic around
her house, the atmosphere looked no different than Antarctica. The
group of experts on the TV show were concluding their discussion.
Lucy noticed that one of the discussant looked like an identical
twin of her uncle, Uncle Bob.
With a strange feeling in her heart , after a ling time Lucy remembered
uncle Bob, her mother’s brother, who was a farmer and had a vast
farmland in Harrisburg. It used to be a fun to watch him on February
2, whenever Lucy visited him during her childhood days. Uncle Bob
waited for this date every year for days on end and when the day
finally arrived, he jumped with ecstasy and hope. “We will have
an early spring this year”, was his mantra every year which rarely
coincided with the verdict of “experts”. He was quite disappointed
at such times but within few moments he made an instantaneous and
revealing statement that “for certain next year is going to have
an early spring”. With this prediction he primarily reassured himself
for he was a farmer.
As a farmer Uncle
Bob always wanted snow to clear off quickly, temperature to go up,
and crocus flowers to appear from nowhere to announce arrival of
spring. Therefore believing in this kind of a prediction is always
a wishful thinking of every farmer if his only source of income
is his farmland. Lucy used to mock at him. Knowing his weakness
for spring, Lucy made it a habit to tease him from the fall itself,
“Uncle what is your prediction for this year?” Bob always fell in
her trap. Even though he never forgot that Lucy was not serious,
as if following a well drafted script for such an occasion, he scratched
his head for a moment and then gave a calculated prediction, “ last
3 years had long winters, as usual. This is the fourth year. I think
spring will arrive earlier this year”
“Has it anything to
do with leap years.?” Lucy asked with an innocent grin, hiding her
sarcastic smile. “No… not necessarily so….. but……you can’t have
long winters for so many years at a stretch …. year after year…..it
is not good for agriculture….” Bob sounded as if talking to himself
from a deep furnace. “Is it a prediction or a wish?” Lucy burst
into laughter and others joined her! Lucy quickly moved her gaze
inside her living room and focused her eyes on the wall calendar.
It was perhaps for the first time in her life she felt ashamed of
She felt sorry for
herself for mocking at somebody disregarding his sentiments and
for being so cruel to make him realize that he was ridiculous. She
failed to understand why did she behave like that. At that age Lucy
did not understand why Uncle Bob behaved like that. Today she could
understand his feelings better when she was herself waiting for
the opinion of the experts, whether spring will arrive early this
year? She empathized with Uncle Bob because she was wearing the
same glasses to look at the environment as her uncle did many years
Lucy was quite satisfied with her life, with her profession as a
Certified Nurse and Jack in her custody. Even after spending 2 years
with George with live-in relationship, her 18 months of married
life was a disaster. She was not sure what went wrong and how. She
was also not certain whether it was only George or she was equally
responsible for their break up. She could not think of any strategy
which could have saved their marriage.
She had to reconcile
with her life. She moved out of his house, got a job in Thomas Jefferson
Hospital and settled down in a small apartment on the Pine Street.
It was a conscious decision by Lucy not to get married again. Most
of her relatives and colleagues regarded her as weird, high headed
and abnormal species not to get married again. She dated couple
of young and middle aged men over a period of time but finally decided
to raise her son as a single mother. For months she was unable to
decide whether it was better to have a step- father for her son
or not have a father at all.
She was raised by
her step- father who had modest means, had two daughters from his
first marriage and a son from her mother, but looked after her well.
She always felt that it is better to have a step- father than not
to have a father. But her experience with George and the dates she
had thereafter put her off against any alliance. She gradually got
in to a cocoon and curled up in to a small world which had her hospital,
her apartment and her 5 year old son Jack.
Life was moving with its own pace for Lucy and Jack. Both of them
had learnt to enjoy every bit of life despite a definite vacuum
in their lives. Even though they were at different level of intellectual
and emotional maturity, they had learnt to comfort each other whenever
one of them was in distress. For Lucy it was perhaps not so unusual
but she was amazed to see how responsibly Jack behaved at such a
Jack was hardly exposed
to the picturesque landscape of rural Pennsylvania. All these years
she visited her mother in Hershey only a couple of times and Jack
met Uncle Bob only once. Somehow, Uncle Bob immensely influenced
and made an impression on young Jack’s mind. Bob had a tremendous
proficiency in describing the beauty of nature laced with his unique
poetic imagination and Jack instantaneously visualized every bit
of it as if he is watching it on a TV screen.
No wonder Jack instantly
fell in love with nature, the flowers, the trees, green grass, the
tulips and the daffodils ! Jack always craved to go in to the green
fields with Uncle Bob, drive a tractor, sleep under the shade of
a tree, pluck an apple from the tree and roll over green grass.
But in reality he was deprived of all these pleasures. Lucy could
not afford a big house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. More than
that security was an issue. After all it was not easy to raise a
child as a single mother. Lucy realized that but was determined
to provide the best possible childhood to her son.
It was only last summer when Lucy had the first jolt of a series
of hapless events in her life. It started with a mild fever which
Lucy disregarded for several days. But when Jack had a bout of epistaxis
while he was in the school, Lucy knew for certain that she is in
for a serious problem. Unfortunately Lucy proved to be right.
The blood and bone
marrow examination left nothing for imagination. The oncologist
did not take too long to give an unequivocal opinion that Jack had
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia subtype L3 with central nervous system
involvement, with known poor prognosis. Lucy lost the hope with
the first chemotherapy cycle itself, bad prognostic signs… Lucy
knew for certain that she is going to be left alone soon, the only
uncertainty was how soon ? Whenever she thought about it she felt
a sudden chill going down her spine. The oncologist did not give
up, but she knew there was little hope. Christmas this year happened
to bring in another reason for extreme helplessness for Lucy.
It was for the first
time they quietly celebrated Christmas in their apartment. Lucy
decided not to go to Hershey because Jack had another chemotherapy
cycle a week earlier and had had too many problems following chemotherapy.
His blood counts were too low and it was risky to travel. She decided
to nurse him at home following chemotherapy and took all the precautions
for barrier nursing. Christmas day passed of uneventfully except
that Lucy, for the first time in last few years, asked Jack a question
which she never asked before.
“ Honey ! what did
you ask Santa Claus ? What is your wish.?” Jack smiled without any
answer. He looked intently at her face and as if he read in to her
eyes, he came out slowly, “ I asked him for the green grass, the
tulips and the daffodils ! Mom….. can I see all this soon…….”
“Yes my sweetie ! you can. We do have early spring sometime and
we can see flowers and greenery all round us as early as late February….”
“ I am sure Santa Claus will bring in early spring this year Mom”
she could see a bright spark of hope and optimism in his eyes. His
pale face suddenly started glowing with excitement and anticipation
Lucy never thought about February 2 earlier in her life. But this
year her expectation with this date was too high. The myth of groundhog’s
shadow seemed to be a fact of life to her as much as for many others
who believe it.. Uncle Bob firmly believed in the prediction. “After
all he is also a sane person” thought Lucy, “ Why should people
believe in this myth for years if it is not true. Why has it become
a part of our culture? Why people gather in thousands to know if
the groundhog can see the shadow? It might be true, after all we
do sometimes have early spring …..”
Lucy tried to convince
herself . She wished that this myth happens to be true. She hoped
this time the prediction is for early spring, and prayed for Jack
to at least see the green grass and the crocus, the tulips and the
daffodils before his next chemotherapy cycle - March 20..” She convinced
herself about the validity of the observation of the experts and
encouraged herself to accept their verdict as the gospel truth !
Jack was still sleeping.
It was already 7.20 in the morning. Lucy ‘s eyes were focused on
the TV screen. In a few minutes the news headlines moved in to news
clip from Punxsutawney. More than 15,000 revelers had milled about
in a misty snow waiting for the prediction, as fireworks exploded
overhead and the "Pennsylvania Polka" and other music
blared in the background. The background narration with the video
clip was educating the viewers about the event. “ Groundhog shadow,
one of the most phenomenal parts of American folklore, is an event
when thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of 6,100
people about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, to celebrate what
had essentially been a German superstition.
The Germans believed
that if a hibernating animal cast a shadow on Feb. 2 - the Christian
holiday of Candlemas - winter would last another six weeks. If no
shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early. Since 1886,
Phil – the chubby rodent - has seen his shadow 96 times, hasn't
seen it 15 times and there are no records for nine years, according
to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The last time Phil failed to
see his shadow was in 1999………”
The commentary continued, “ you can see the huge crowd of people
who firmly believe the Punxsutawney Phil has special powers of prognostication.
You can see the excitement at the Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney.
The colorful dresses and the groundhog masks which many people are
wearing today depict a festive atmosphere. See the excitement to
watch the Phil. Look at the placards- “We don’t need Doppler Radar,
we have Phil !!”…… “Phil’s shadow can prevent global warming !!”…
“Groundhog day… Half your hay !”…….
After months of hibernation
during winter, the rodent comes out of his burrow on this day to
prognosticate the weather for the rest of the winter……for himself
as well as for rest of the folks. If he sees his shadow he goes
back to the burrow and if he doesn’t, an early spring is expected
and Phil moves around. Not only that folks, our Phil even talks……!
Yes ! Once he comes
out of his burrow in front of thousands of followers from all over
the world , one of the Phil’s handlers will hold him in air. His
body will be tapped 3 times and then Phil will speak to the Groundhog
Club president in "Groundhogese", a language only understood
by the current president of the Inner Circle. His proclamation will
then be translated for the world.”
Lucy intently concentrated on the screen. Everybody was curiously
waiting for the verdict. The commentator was also excited and was
speaking at the top of his voice, “ Folks… here we are.. February
2, Friday, at the Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney… we are experiencing
the excitement like every year….. it is 7.38 in the morning…. the
door of his burrow has been opened …Phil will come out to grace
the occasion…… Phil’s all the 3 handlers are waiting with open hands
to hold the magical weather prognostician, our own little chubby,
Phil… our Punxsutawney Phil…!”
The crowd cheered
as if under a spell even without seeing the rodent. The commentator
continued , “Phil seems to be still sleeping, his handlers are trying.
Let us all be ready to receive our dear, naughty, chubby Phil………”
The atmosphere thundered
with another spell of a long applause. Suddenly the commentator’s
voice became husky and with a deep breath he almost moaned, “ There
seems to be some problem folks. Phil is still inside, the handlers
are coaxing him to come out. Tthere is some hope. But….no….. all
the handlers are shaking their heads…… it seems unusual …… such
a thing has happened only once in 1943……it is going to be another
record year …. the groundhog didn’t make an appearance this time……
sorry folks for the disappointment…. the handlers are closing the
doors of the burrow…
There is no weather
prediction this year………” Lucy felt a strong thump in her chest and
helplessly looked at the activity calendar with March 20 marked
as Jacks’ next chemotherapy day!
Contributing Story Teller
Patwari, former Professor of Pediatrics from Lady Hardinge Medical
College New Delhi, currently working as Research Professor International
Health, Boston University. Email: