‘You ain’t nothing but a groundhog’

By on January 28, 2015


Phil Eisemann

Phil Eisemann

It was the annual pig stomach feast at the chateau of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge in the White Rock Valley near Quarryville
A good time was being had by all but the band, a country rock group called County Line, was having trouble catching the attention of the older group chowing down on an unlimited supply of their favorite local delicacy. Finally, mostly in frustration, they called a break. Only one person seemed to notice, that was a local wit with an idea. He walked up to the band leader and said, “Would you be willing to do that famous Elvis Presley hit, ‘You Ain’t Nothing But a Groundhog?’” A light went on over the band leader’s head.
He grabbed a yellow legal pad and with his band members they began scribbling lyrics. When the band returned to the stage the leader announced, “We have a special number for tonight,” and they began “You ain’t nothing but a groundhog, hiding all the time. You always make the right call and you are a friend of mine.” There was a roar from the audience and after four stanzas there was a call for an encore. The band’s evening was saved.
Long before Bill Murray’s reliving of the day made the term Groundhog Day a cliché, the second of February was an established date for those of us who grew up in the Cocalico Valley. Although Groundhog Day has roots in the pagan festival of Imboic (the change of seasons in the Celtic calendar) and St. Swithun’s Day, the earliest known mention of Groundhog Day is a diary entry dated Feb. 4, 1841 by a Morgantown shopkeeper:
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, Candlemas day, the day which according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”
From this legend has sprung organizations seeking to bring some light fun to a dark time of the year. The only true groundhogs are, of course, in Ephrata and The White Rock Valley. Cocalico Cal predicts the weather from Ephrata’s park and raised about $2,000 for the Ephrata Area Social Services. Octorara Orphie ascends the Point of Procrastination (a New Idea manure spreader) to pontificate to proselytes in high hats and night shirts. Usually there are large quantities of liquid warming agent involved. On the same day, frauds in Punxsutawney and even as far off as Irving, Texas go through the pretense of prediction.
To home gardeners and farmers, the groundhog is a varmint prone to steal veggies and dig up pastures. For some hunters, they are off-season target practice. Years ago they were trapped for their pelts. But for the devotee, they are charming little rodents who share our world only for good. One such was Jessy Nissley formerly of Pointview Avenue in Ephrata. She encouraged the groundhogs that lived in her back yard and wrote two books, one of which, “Groundy the Gourmet Groundhog,” can be found in the juvenile section at the Ephrata Public Library. The other, “We Needed Each Other,” can be found in the historic books section at the Lancaster Public Library. Her love affair with maramota monax came as the result of an extended period of ill health. She was sitting one day looking out the patio door into the backyard when she spotted two groundhog pups romping across the grass. It was love at first sight and she offered them food which they gladly accepted. Soon the population grew and her backyard became known as Groundhog Land. Groundhog Day parties attracted as many as 450 people; all offered a slice of a groundhog shaped cake and coffee cups, t-shirts, cookie cutters, jewelry, and coloring books from the Gourmet Groundhog gift shop. Mrs. Nissley gave talks to churches and community groups across a five-county area and appeared on WGAL TV on several occasions. People came from all over the world to see the odd menagerie which was the Nissley garden. At one time there were 3,000 members of the Groundy Fan Club. The oddest animal to take up residence was an albino groundhog that lived out his well-fed life on the Nissley property.
For Nissley the groundhog was a passion, almost a calling. For most of us, like Lynda Jensen, it is an excuse to have a little fun. First, Lynda is a Pittsburgh area native and in her community, the pomp and predictions of Punxsutawney Phil was a part of community life. Second, Lynda does not like winter. Groundhog Day is well after the holiday season and just before the coming of spring. The days are getting longer and the end of winter is in sight. What better reason for a party? And they do have one. It has grown to the point that it has become necessary to rent the Pioneer Fire Hall for a pot luck dinner on celebrate the day. They sing Groundhog Day carols (some enterprising soul has written Groundhog Day appropriate lyrics to carol tunes), wear groundhog paraphernalia, and eat groundhog shaped cookies. And a good time is had by all regardless of the groundhog’s prediction.
So friends, on Feb. 2 have a day of joy. No matter what the various predictors say spring is near, so celebrate.

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One Comment

  1. Bob Callihan

    April 29, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Great article as usual Phil.
    I need to ask you a question about your uncle Milton Eiseman – would you mind doing this ?

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