Michele Bender photo

Michele Mikesic Bender

Something amazing happened Phriday, and I think we all agree we could use some “amazing” right now.

My phriend Sharon’s adorable pharm sits just outside Central City. An animal lover, she boards her son Doug’s chickens, turkeys, ducks and goats in her barn. Her property spans acres of phorest area as well.

Deer trot phearlessly up to greet her. Bunnies and raccoons nod as she walks by almost daily, and even a phriendly bear watches over her.

Last Saturday, as we sat in her kitchen, the door phlung open.

A groundhog, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, newsboy hat and mirrored sunglasses slumped against her screen door.

“Sharon, say it ain’t so!” he gasped.

Both of us jumped up and guided him to a chair. “What’s wrong, Phrank?” Sharon asked.

“They’re canceling Groundhog Day this year!”

“I heard that,” I said. “Sad but understandable. Large groups in small places are perfect for the virus to breed.”

“Michele, this is my neighbor, Phrank. He rents my shed,” Sharon explained. 

“Michele writes a column for the Johnstown newspaper.”

We shook paws.

“I went to Johnstown once,” Phrank said. “Punxsutawney gave Phil a vehicle. The Philmobile. He and I go cruisin’ in the summer. I had a Coney Island hot dog. Delicious.”

“Phrank is Phil’s cousin,” Sharon said, sitting back down at the table. “He was DNA-tested. Phrank is a blood relative.”

“Incredible family resemblance!” I noticed. “Do you predict, too?”

“Oh, not me,” he protested. 

“I’m just a simple rodent.”

“I dunno,” Sharon said. 

“He lacks Phil’s charisma and showmanship, but the prediction gene is hereditary.”

“It’s tradition,” I said, sighing. “German settlers started it in 1886. Now our world is in chaos. We need a time-honored ritual to cling to.”

Phrank hung his head. “Phil’s done it for 127 years.”

Sharon’s eyes widened. “How?”

“He takes a dose of specially-brewed magic youth elixir every year on his birthday. Now Michele, don’t write about that.”

“I’ll try not to, “ I phibbed.

“Friends of mine from all across the country are still coming to my house,” Sharon said. “Hank, Arnie and Denise come from Michigan; Les comes from Arizona.”

“I’m dazzled, Sharon.”

“Ron from New York, Betty from Virginia, Dave from Louisiana ... ” she continued.

“Don’t phorget our locals,” Phrank reminded. “Patti, Cindy, Lisa, Connie, Phyliss, Mary Ann from Pittsburgh – and, of course, Doug.”

“Then let’s have a private ceremony here,” I suggested. “Your yard is perfect. Picnic table, phire ring. We can use lawn chairs, pholding chairs and TV tables. C’mon, Phrank, can’t you try? It’s a Pennsylvania tradition. Honor the Shadow!”

“I’m not a meteorologist,” he said. “And I’m not getting up at 5 a.m. like Phil.”

He crossed his arms stubbornly.

“Phrankfest is private. Phamily rite, phamily rules. How about noon on Phriday? Can we find a couple top hats for the guys when they escort Phrank?” I wondered. “You’re subbing for Phil, but the moment should be treated with reverence and phormality.”

Phrank was waffling. “What do I wear?”

“Whatever you want! You da man! We have a whole week to prepare.”

“Ok,” Phrank said, and grinned. “I’ll do it. But just us. Crowds phrazzle me.”

Sharon hugged him. “Bless your phuzzy heart.”

“Aww, it’s tradition. C’mon ... all together ...”

And we repeated, “Honor the Shadow!”

I drove to Sharon’s about 10 a.m. on Phriday. 

Everyone pitched in. Some guys chopped wood for the phire ring. Three women returned from the market with graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey bars. It’s not a Pennsylvania party without s’mores, and genuine Hershey.

“What are we grillin?” I asked.

Phrank-phurters, of course,” Sharon answered. We howled.

“And omelets,” galpal Patti added. “The pharm animals wanted a piece of the action. They’ve never been to a party.”

“How sweet,” nodded Phyliss.

Sharon pointed at me. “Now, Lois Lane! What did you bring?”

“Masks. Phun is phun, but we must protect ourselves. Six feet apart and phace masks. But I phound these stickers online.”

I held up a mask. On the nose, I applied a sticker with a cartoon image of Phil wearing a mask. It’s stamped “Groundhog Day 2021.”

“So cute,” Mary Jane laughed.

“Hey, I have cider,” Doug announced.

At 2 minutes to noon, we raised our red Solo cups. “To traditions that bind us, and families and friends who love us. We honor the shadow!”

“What shadow?” Phrank stood bewildered in front of the shed. “Oops, I phorgot!”

“No shadow!” someone hollered.

“Early spring,” another chimed in.

I swear I phelt a warm spring breeze.

Tradition is tradition.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at MsGeezerette@aol.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you