Flirting with February

`FEBBERARY,' said Tonky Talbot whilst shoeing a left-hand hoof of Deacon Lundquith's sorrel mare, Queenie, ``is the goofiest month.'' The deacon said, ``Oh?'' to which Tonky made reply as follows: ``Eyah. You just look there at the calendar - they don't even know how to spell it!'' But in those days our best authority on Febberary was not our village blacksmith, but was Miz Parmelia MacEachern, teacher at School No. 8 in Misery Gore, 17 children in Grades 1 to 8, and the slickest schoolmarm that ever helped a boy wind up his ice skates.

From safe ice on Bullet Pond right up until spring freshet, Miz MacEachern wore her Barnum & Berry skate key on a string around her neck, and she could wind a clamp onto your boot so your heel would pucker up right inside your sock. No skate ever came off in Misery Gore.

Miz was the way we said missus then, and didn't have a thing to do with new-fangled gender. There was no such word as Ms., so we didn't need to know how to spell it.

We kept hens and roosters then, and the baby ones were chicks. Just chicks. I had my own boyhood flock and when the little ones popped out from under a hen, they were chicks. For Sunday dinner we'd parboil and roast an old hen, the finest kind. Chicken was what we called Tomboy Gladys when she wouldn't jump off the high springboard. Now let's see - where were we? Oh, yes - Febberary. Miz Parmelia MacEachern used to say that Febberary was hard to take, as it was a contrary month and all mixed up about everything, and she'd say that once you climbed March Hill, the rest of the year would swim right along. Maybe you've noticed that's about right. Febberary is the down side of the year.

Miz MacEachern taught us how the animals in the woods are either asleep or mighty hungry, and with the deep Febberary snow the deer just hang in there tough. Bosh, she said about Groundhog Day, when our Maine snowdrifts are up to the fan on the windmill and a groundhog is snoring in his hole.

``Half your wood and half your hay,'' she'd recite with a snort - ``not much of a farmer who comes into Febberary and half his hay gone.'' She had a fine story she'd tell the first-graders about the Indians and their ``Hunger Moon'' of Febberary, and the older classes couldn't help but listen.

Sim Bachelder, who had been in the eighth grade seven years and had a mustache would listen with tears in his eyes - he'd heard the story so many times he knew it by heart. Miz MacEachern taught that no matter how long winter stayed around, it was a smart farmer who still had a little hay to put out - good as money in the bank.

George Washington, Miz MacEachern said, was all right in his own way, and we owed him respect and dignity - but he was nowhere near so interesting a man as his twin brother, Pud. Pud was no good. Pud was every bit as bad as George was virtuous. Pud was the one cut down the pet cherry tree, so George lied when he said he couldn't tell a lie. George knew all the time Pud would never thank him for taking the blame. Then when she had attention, Mrs. MacEachern would resolve the two Georges and moralize things so George was sort of human, and no longer just a picture on the wall. (The other schoolroom art was inclusive of Abraham Lincoln and ``Grace Darling and her Father.'' Woodrow Wilson wouldn't appear until 1919.) Miz MacEachern deplored that George was born Old Style and came to be celebrated New Style, losing 10 days, so the 22nd never was his birthday anyway. Shouldn't fool around with anybody's rightful birthday, you see.

There was a man lived over on Mosquito Hill in those days who was a leap year baby. He was 98 years old and held the Boston Post gold-headed cane, but he had seen only 24 birthdays. Miz MacEachern had her pupils make him birthday cards every Febberary that had 29 days, and other years he just got valentines. With the making of valentines, Miz MacEachern thus inculcated knowledge of the Gregorian calendar, the making of wallpaper and biscuit-flour paste, art appreciation, respect for the elderly, and the oddities of Febberary.

As for Honest Abe Lincoln, since nobody in her down-Maine town had any notion of slavery, she brought things home by having her youngsters bring in souvenirs of their granddaddies' blue-water sailing days, and sure enough - Mainers did know quite a bit about trading in Africa. Miz MacEachern was a dabster at teaching all about Febberary, the goofiest month, and the scholars climbed March Hill with her in converse with much wit, wisdom, and whimsy - a fine mixture. So good was she that the town raised her pay to $600 a year.

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