Back in the day: my ‘groundhog’ daughter

The days and weeks go whizzing by, and here it is, February already. Its beginning is always extra-special for me because Feb. 2 is my daughter’s birthday — which was quite a memorable event…

My little family lived in Chicago then, and that winter — 61 years ago! — was one of the worst on record in a city already well-known for dreadful cold and high piles of snow. My doctor had predicted a somewhat later due date: “You’ll have a little girl on Valentine’s Day,” he said. But it turned out her arrival was somewhat earlier. The doctor again: “Well, it’s still a holiday,” he said. “It’s Groundhog Day!”

That was a big event in Western Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised. At Punxsutawney, crowds gather each year to find out if Phil, the designated groundhog, will or will not see his shadow when he emerges that day; this is supposed to determine if winter is indeed ending, or will go on (and on and on!) for six more weeks of miserable weather. 

Truth told: One of the best things for me about living in Dallas is reaching Feb. 2 each year to celebrate my daughter’s birthday with only memories of the time of her arrival: It was so cold, the hospital wouldn’t allow any newborns to be taken outside — not even into a waiting car; what if something dire should happen on the way home? My mother managed to fly into Chicago to help out with her new granddaughter, but had to fly back home before she could even see her! (Another truth: I had eight more days in the hospital than I would ever have imagined. What a welcome, restful vacation!)

When we finally reached home together, there were necessary adjustments required. We lived then in a rented apartment, and Chicago did not require landlords to provide any established minimums for heating such places. Ours had everything set to turn off automatically at 10 p.m. every evening. Think of that with a newborn’s middle-of-the-night feedings! What we did was put our baby to sleep in a bundle of infant winter wear, and as the time we knew she would wake for a feeding approached, my husband and I would don our own winter coats, light every burner on the kitchen stove, put a bottle on to heat and fire up the oven, opening its door wide. Only when that room was fully warmed did we bring her into it. I still shake my head in wonder when I think back to those frozen February days, but we were young then, and somehow able to cope with anything and everything and still retain our sanity…

Folks born on Groundhog Day have the option of joining a special club that provides a distinctive birth certificate featuring a “portrait” of Punxsutawney Phil, suitable for framing. Daughter Devra, who just turned 61, still has hers hanging on a kitchen wall. All in all, when everything else has been said and done, we can look back on that frozen time, and maybe not laugh too loud and long, but even chuckle just a bit because we survived! My groundhog daughter’s big brother remembers the joy of being a 4-year-old playing in snow piled somewhat higher than his head; he slept through those baby-bottle-filled nights, cozily warm in a hooded snowsuit, and never took part in our kitchen adventures. Soon after, we moved into a place of our own, with its own furnace and its own thermostat, and life became normal, although we still had to cope with Chicago’s copious snow every winter. Hooray for Dallas!

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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