Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhogs Are For Target Practice

Punxutawney Phil has prognosticated for the next several weeks. The little monster saw his shadow. Six more weeks of winter. Ugh. Where I come from, though, he wouldn't have too much of a shelf-life. Come spring, some teenage boy would pick him off faster than you can blink. See, in Smalltownland, groundhogs = target practice.

Some people also eat them. I'm told that they're greasy, having not had the pleasure myself. My mother says that they're gamey-tasting, too.

When I was eleven, my bachelor uncle married him a bonafide city gal. She was a nurse of German descent whose concept of cleanliness was at near-OCD levels. Ever tried baking cookies with somebody like that? She practically had us wearing surgical gloves in the kitchen.

Aunt Joan had some difficulty adjusting to life on the farm. Some things baffled her: she didn't like the idea that a cow she helped my uncle feed in the barn would soon end up in her deep freezer. Being the family smartmouth, I responded with, "Well, where did you think your food came from? The store?" *slap*

The greatest City Gal moment came, however, on a day when we were making cookies. After we had already made the dough, she began scrambling around looking for her cookie sheets. They weren't just any cookie sheets, either; they were special, expensive ones from Williams-Sonoma that she'd gotten as wedding gifts. We dug frantically through the cabinets before she decided to take a break. She marched us down to the basement to check the deep freezer for something to serve for supper. I'd wandered away for some reason, but her shriek of horror brought me running.

She stood, pointing into the freezer, repeating "My cookie sheets! My good cookie sheets!" When I arrived at her side, she grasped my arm and demanded, "What is that on my cookie sheets?" I leaned over, assessed the situation, and said calmly, "I think they're groundhogs."

There was an eerie stillness for a split second, and then she exploded: "GROUNDHOGS ON MY GOOD COOKIE SHEETS!"

My uncle had used her cookie sheets to lay out his hunting trophies for freezing. If ever there'd been cause for divorce, this was it, and what she did next caused me to think it might come from either side of the fence: she snatched up the offending carcasses, rushed up the stairs, and hurled them into the woods behind the house. Next, she ran the water as hot as she could get it, brought out the Ajax, and began madly scouring the pans.

By the time my uncle got home from work, she'd probably scalded and/or chemically burned off most of the skin on her hands. As he walked through the door, she wielded a cookie sheet at him like a Spartan hoplon. "MY COOKIE SHEETS," she roared, shaking it angrily, "YOU PUT GROUNDHOGS ON MY COOKIE SHEETS!"

"Well," he said, "just where are my groundhogs now?"

She was so livid that she couldn't speak, so I answered helpfully, "I think she threw them in the trees out back."

Uncle Ben drove us into town in stony silence, dropping us off at my grandmother's apartment. After he left, she asked me why he was in such a bad mood.

"Aunt Joan got mad at him because he put groundhogs on her cookie sheets, so she threw them out in the woods. Now he's mad at her, too."

Granny thought about it a second. "He knows better. The pans for the groundhogs are under the sink. Just like a man. Hmph."

I don't know about you all, but my granny is the only person I ever met who had a separate set of pans for groundhogs...

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