The Good Life: Enduring February Makes Us Hardier
Here all this time, I had believed that Founding Father Thomas Paine lived in eastern Pennsylvania.
You remember Paine, he of the “These are the times that try men’s souls” call to arms in 1776, he who disparaged “the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot.”
Paine was pretty big on the gloom-and-doom stuff.
So I am beginning to think perhaps he did journey into west-central Pennsylvania in February.
Snow. Ice. Sleet. Heat. Glop. Slop. Mud. Then ice, sleet, snow, blizzards. Short, gloomy, cloudy days ripped by bone-chilling winds. Long nights spent hearing those winds howling and moaning about and abaft the house and barn.
Paine held out hope, however. In “The Crisis,” he did note that the sufferings of the Colonists in 1776, would set the stage for better times. “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” he said. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
There is nothing light or easy about enduring February in these parts.
Oh, February is not torture. By and large, it is not life-threatening, though the aged and the sick find it draining.
But almost nothing actually grows in February. Even house plants, bathed in the 55-degree faucet water that seems hot by comparison to what lurks outside, tend to droop and wilt.
The one bright spot in February, Valentine’s Day in mid-month, fades by month’s end in concert with the flaccid shedding petals of the bouquets bought to sweeten swains and kindle romance. That pseudo-holiday, hyped up by the vendors of greeting cards, flowers and candy, should increase our affection for cuddling and snuggling, some of romance’s most enjoyable pastimes. Instead, the howling winds, rutted pathways and seemingly ever-present darkness evoke “Leave me alone!”
February’s gloom was forever heightened for me by my father’s sudden, stroke-caused death way back when I was a teenager. He died on Valentine’s Day, crushing my mother who had been eagerly awaiting his promised telephone call from Philadelphia on that day, which was also Mom’s birthday.
From then on until I had gotten married and lived in my own home, there was no celebration on Valentine’s Day. Mom appreciated it if I called her by telephone, but during the remaining 36 years of her life, she wanted no visits, no dinners at restaurants, no candy or flowers, no reminders of romance and love. We could take her out on another day in belated commemoration of her birthday, and often did so. But whereas Mom was usually a cheerful, bubbly person with a bright smile and an infectious, chortling laugh, from 1956 to her death in 1992, there was little joy in February in general, and at mid-month in particular.
Perhaps it is the trailing tendrils of that childhood that endow February with such grim cheerlessness for me.
I have on occasion escaped the western Pennsylvania gloomy weather, swapping it for the sunnier skies and warmer temperatures of Florida, its 60s-climate Panhandle and its 80s-climate peninsula
But not until March do I seem to be able to shake off its cheerlessness. “Get through this,” is about all I do, though I try my best to not inflict my melancholia on family or friends.
Here, in my writing, I stopped and chuckled.
Have I not done that very thing here and now, foisting my lugubriosness on you, Dear Readers, the very people who depend on these essays for some uplifting aspects of our daily lives?
Yes, yes indeed.
And here, again, is Thomas Paine: “‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink.”
Break the cycle, then. Understand that the falling petals and flaccid pistils of Valentine’s Day bouquets, composted properly, yield the rich dark soil of springtime softness, welcoming the seeds of summer’s plenty.
Yes, February’s weather is necessary. Our lives are as cyclical as the seasons, forever changing yet returning, springtime after springtime, summer upon summer, autumn after autumn — and February’s rounds of polar vortexes, nor’easters, mud-making thaws and ruts-forming freezes.
West-central Pennsylvania in winter is not always a pleasant place. Ah, but west-central Pennsylvania in late spring is delightful; in summer, effervescent; in autumn, crisp and colorful.
February here has its uses. It is a good time for pondering. Those of us who remember having functional outhouses recall also that the Burpee seed catalogs served multiple purposes, their mundane usefulness augmented by their dazzling visions of blooms aplenty in the months ahead.
Thomas Paine, that acerbic prophet and consummate cynic, came to despise religion, so much so that, despite his Revolutionary heroism and prominence, in that hyper-observant era only six people attended his 1809 funeral — yet his reputation as a fierce advocate for freedom endures to this day.
And, wouldn’t you know it, Paine was born in … drum roll … February, the month that makes us hardier for having endured it.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org