Bonus Story - Groundhog Day
The chapter below appears in 'Ma's Diner'. Please enjoy the preview of the book.
*My apologies for the formatting. There were restrictions based on the scope that my website would allow.
“This is the dumbest idea you’ve had yet.” Ma remarked to the mayor from her second-row seat of the tiny town office public meeting room. As usual during this mid-winter’s monthly meeting, Mayor Wiggleswort was wearing his bright-purple velvety suit jacket, specific for town gatherings, purple suit pants and a bright yellow tie perched on his nice white shirt. Seated to either side were board members Doody and Daley, and Constable Bob in a metal folding chair to one side.
“It isn’t dumb, Ma. It’s good, clean fun. We need a little fun around here. The winters are long and cold, and folks are getting anxious and looking towards spring. Sometimes we need something a little different to give us a pick-me-up.” The mayor explained to the ever-complaining resident diner-owner.
“Oh, it’s different, alright!” Ma wiggled to the front of her chair on her butt cheeks, sat up and pointed to the town’s leader. In her signature sarcastic tone she responded, “You do realize, don’t you, that someone has already thought of Groundhog Day? It’s been around for a while now, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“We know that Ma.” Rupert whined. “We can’t come up with every new idea. And why should one town somewhere in Pennsylvania have all the attention?” The mayor looked around the room at the small crowd, “What’s the name of that place, anyway? Puntatoony? Puntatoxy?”
“It’s Puxatony. And the groundhog’s name is Phil.” A monotone Marmaduke spoke out from his usual seat in the back row, his head down, arms crossed, and legs stretched out.
Daley looked at the mayor, “We can’t use a groundhog too, Mister Mayor, can we?”
Constable Bob leaned forward and looked down the folding tables to the mayor, “That’d be copying someone else. That’d be cheating.”
Ma rolled her eyes in response to the stupidity she was bearing witness to. The mayor, staring up at the ceiling and scratching his chin with his duct-taped gavel, “You’re right, we need a different animal. And we can’t use the shadow thing either. We need something more original.”
Ma couldn’t take it anymore and stood up, crinkled her nose, and addressed the board members, “Original?! Are you serious?! You’re all talking about stealing a national holiday as it is! How original is that?! Is it the goal in life of you four to always make us look stupid?!”
Doody spoke up, “It’s only for us, Ma. We’re not looking to get the country involved. It’ll be our own little day near the end of winter to look forward to.” He turned to the mayor, “You know, they say that thousands of people show up in Poontang, Pennsylvania to see that groundhog come out of its hole. Just think what we could do here.”
“It’s Puxatony.” Again, from Marmaduke.
And again, Ma rolled her eyes and sat back down, throwing her hands in the air. “I can’t wait to hear what they do with Gobbler’s Knob.” She whispered to herself.
Doody continued, “We could do a whole thing around it. You know, a big breakfast, banners and get all fancied up and stuff! Mayor, you could get all dressed up in a nice suit!”
The mayor looked down at his current clothing, wondering to himself why it wasn’t good enough. After a moment or two he perked up suddenly, having had an epiphany, “Hey, Ma! Does that bear still visit the diner each week?!”
Ma responded, quite non-chalanlty, “Yeah, he wanders out of the woods every Wednesday morning and sits his hairy ass on the diner’s rear steps until I come out and give him a stack of hot waffles all covered in maple syrup. I’ve never seen anything like it, just like clockwork. Ever since he followed me and El out of the woods last year he’s been like flypaper once a week. I suppose eating waffles was a better idea to him than hibernating for the winter.”
Elmer simply smirked and nodded in acknowledgement to Ma’s words.
The mayor looked left and right to his tiny board, “That’s it! We’ll use Ma’s bear to tell us if springs coming! It’ll be our original idea!” Daley, Doody and Bob all nodded and smiled in agreement, endorsing the mayor in the belief he’d thought of something brilliant, not to mention to further stroke his ego which was what they were all best at doing on a daily basis.
Ma flashed the mayor an ‘are you kidding me’ look out over her reading glasses and responded, “You do realize there, Captain Marvel, that it’s called Groundhog’s Day for a reason, right? Not, big-ass bear day.” Ma glanced over in her row to the McIntyre brothers who were seated at the opposite end and staring back at her. Both shrugged their shoulders in stereo. She looked at El, seated beside her to the other side, and he too gave her the ‘I don’t know’ look. Ma glanced behind her and everyone in the room all shrugged their shoulders at her. Ma turned back to the board in disgust, shaking her head.
The board members, seemingly ignoring Ma’s comments, expanded on their idea. “What are we looking to have the bear do? We can’t have it seeing its shadow like Puckylucky Phil does. That’d wouldn’t be original.” Daley said to the mayor.
“It’s Puxatony.” Marmaduke’s monotone hadn’t changed as he reclined in his seat, his face buried behind his long, white whiskers.
“Oh, this is exciting!” Ruby bounced from her seat in the third row. “Our own version of Groundhog Day!” The McIntyre brothers both turned to stare in the general area of Ruby’s chest as her excitement was quite obvious. Both with dumb, childlike smiles on their faces. Ruby noticed, glancing over to the boys and she blew them an air kiss.
“Why don’t you just wait for the bear to do something and then decide if that signals an early end to winter or not,” Smirnoff mentioned from directly behind Ma in his heavy Ukrainian accent. The old woman slowly turned around in her chair and gave Smirnoff the ‘really?’ look, her eyebrows raised. Smirnoff blew Ma and air kiss in return, amused by the conversation in the room. Cicely too raised her eyebrows at Ma, an indication that she also was amused by the ridiculousness of the idea.
“That’s a good idea!” Mayor Wiggleswort pointed his gavel at the room, “We’ll wait for the bear to do something and then decide if winter’s ending!”
Ma turned back around slowly, “Hey, Einstein! When the bear does something, does that mean that winter is ending soon, or going on six weeks longer?”
Rupert looked up in the air, searching for the answer on the cobwebs hanging off the light fixtures, “Well, I suppose if he does something that means there’s more winter coming. If he doesn’t do anything we’ll call it an early spring. I think that’s how it works with Perplexity Phil.”
Ma rolled her eyes again, her tone becoming increasingly more sarcastic, “And who’s the lucky asshole that gets to hold the bear up in the air like they do with that groundhog in Gobbler’s Knob?”
Constable Bob took Ma’s comments seriously and turned to the mayor, leaning backwards in his chair to see him better, “I think we should just stand back and watch. I don’t think the bear will let us pick him up. That might make him a bit grumpy.”
This time it was the mayor’s turn to roll his eyes at the lawman’s comments.
“What’s the bear’s name, Ma?” Paul Doody asked.
“Shithead.” Ma’s casual response drew chuckling from several in the room.
“Shithead?” Doody turned to the mayor in a panic, “We can’t call him shithead. That’d take away from the significance of the day! Who’s gonna come to Ma’s diner to see Shithead the Bear predict and end to winter?”
“That’s true,” the mayor responded, still looking at the ceiling. “We’ll need to come up with another name for him.”
“You can’t rename my bear! And we don’t need anyone coming to my diner for any of this!” Ma barked. “We ain’t advertising this as anything! Absolutely no foreigners! I’m warning you, Rupert!” Ma was pointing and shaking her stubby finger at the town’s leader.
“Call him Petey!” Ruby Red offered, all smiles and on the edge of her seat, proud of her contribution to the overall concept.
“Hmmm, Puddleduck Petey.” The mayor said in a low voice. He then looked out at Ruby, “I like it! Puddleduck Petey it is!”
Ma glanced over to Ruby and gave her a dirty look. Ruby glanced back at Ma, shrunk back in her chair, and silently mouthed the word ‘sorry’ to the agitated woman. Ma turned back front, “Hey idiots! Has it occurred to any of you that the bear only comes out on Wednesdays? What are you going to do next year when Groundhog Day isn’t on a Wednesday?! What if he decides next year to hibernate? Does someone plan to go into the woods on a Saturday and poke the bear to come out of his den? I’d like to see that! I bet you’ll see him do something then!”
“Well…” Rupert whined, “we’ll just have to hold our holiday on a Wednesday each year, that’s all. And I don’t see that bear giving up a good thing at the diner if you keep feeding him.” The board members nodding in agreement as they all cautiously looked out at Ma.
Ma sat back up on the edge of her seat, adjusted her glasses and said in a casual, however arrogant tone, “So, let me see if I have this straight. You’re going to have people at the diner staring at a big black bear on Groundhog Day. Then, you’re all going to wait for the bear to do something. Something other than sitting on my back steps eating a short stack of syrup covered waffles. And, once the bear does something, you’ll all declare winter to be over or not. A bear on Groundhog Day! A big-ass bear doing something other than seeing his shadow like that little rodent does in Knobbler’s Gob? Do I have this all correct? Hmmmm?”
“It’s Gobbler’s Knob.” Again, Marmaduke.
Ma snapped her head around to the side, “Shut up!” She then turned back to the mayor, lifting one eyebrow, and waiting for his answer.
The mayor looked at Ma, nervously, “Well, yes. That’s the general idea.”
“And you think people from all over the country are going to ditch Punkintony Phil for this?!”
Ma stood up and spun around with amazing agility, her faded floral pattern dress twirling around her pear-shaped body, and she shook her chubby finger at Marmaduke, “I’m warning you! Don’t!” Old Marmaduke flashed a smile and blew Ma and air kiss as Ma turned back to the mayor.
“Well, yes! I believe this will catch on…locally,” the mayor responded with a smile on his face.
Bob spoke next, “Ma, do you think you can get the bear to sit on the front entrance steps so we can all sit in the diner and watch him? You can’t see the back steps from the diner’s windows.”
“Of course, I can! That hungry bear would sit inside at one of the booths wearing a bib for them waffles if that’s where I decided to serve him! He’s a pain in my ass!”
“Gee, Ma. Do you think you can get him to wear a bib on Groundhog Day? That’d be something!” Constable Bob inquired, quite seriously.
Everyone in the room rolled their eyes.
* * * *
Groundhog Day. It was bright and sunny, the temperature was up a bit to a balmy 34 degrees Fahrenheit. The diner was packed early with people having arrived before the bear’s usual Wednesday arrival time of 6:30 a.m. The McIntyre’s had put the town’s wooden street barricades out at the edge of the road with a notice saying that no one would be allowed in the diner’s lot after 6:00 a.m., in effort so that nobody would wheel into the diner while Puddleduck Petey was there and scare him away.
Over the past few weeks Ma had been leaving waffles closer and closer to the front door in effort to coax her bear to the front steps after finishing up his breakfast in his usual spot on the rear steps. This day, she’d be placing the bear’s entire stack of syrup-covered waffles on the front steps of the diner. Inside, Runyon and El had moved the booths away from the front wall and everyone was standing at the diner’s windows to get a view of Puddleduck Petey and wait for the bear to do something, an indication that winter would continue for six more weeks. Ma had finally shined up to the idea of the event and had even gone so far as to put a sign on an easel just inside the diner’s doors that read the following:
Come to the Diner on Groundhogs Day.
Show Up Early, No Admittance After 6:00 a.m.
Winters End to be Predicted!
See If Shithead the Bear Does Something.
A few times the mayor had attempted to cross out the bear’s formal name and write in ‘Puddleduck Petey’, however Ma kept changing it back.
Rupert had studied on the traditional Groundhog Day and how it was handled in Puxatony, Pennsylvania. He had on a black tuxedo, velvety of course, and a top hat. He’s also made his select board members, Daley and Doody, wear tuxedo’s as well, renting all three from Choppie’s Secondhand Shop in Skunksquirt. Unfortunately for the other two the store hadn’t three tuxedos on hand, so Jacob and Paul’s were actually wearing bright sky-blue leisure suits, with top hats to match. Rupert had his sister, Myrtle, create a fancy paper scroll and she’d written on it a proclamation that the select board had endorsed, declaring this day as East Puddleduck’s official Groundhog Day. The proclamation explaining the ceremony that was to take place in which everyone would watch and wait for Petey the Bear to do something that would predict the end of winter. The mayor read the proclamation out loud, standing in the center of the diner, while Runyon and Ma watched for the bear from the kitchen windows and kept their eyes towards the wood line where the furry creature traditionally emerged from each Wednesday morning.
Ma had the diner’s window blinds down, open only enough to peek through, as she didn’t want her bear spooked by the small crowd of onlookers. She wanted her favorite furry friend to eat his waffles in peace. Constable Bob had come prepared, though, with a canister of bear spray added to his duty belt in the even the bear did get spooked and tried to enter the diner. Not that Bob knew how to use bear spray, nor would he even have the courage to use it in the face of danger. Truth was, Bob would most likely be the first one to jump out a window or hide in the restroom if Shithead the Bear was to attack.
Ma was serving breakfast buffet style from the counter bar this morning, with waffles obviously being the special of the day, and most of the patrons were standing while enjoying their early morning meal. When Rupert completed reading the proclamation from the chair he was standing on, which still didn’t cause his short stature to touch the ceiling, even with the top hat on, he continued to address the small crowd, “Now remember everyone, we’ve promised Ma that we won’t scare Puddleduck Petey.”
A voice very much resembling Ma’s echoed from the kitchen, cutting the mayor off, “Shithead!”
The mayor glanced towards the kitchen, rolled his eyes, and continued. “So, please try not to crowd the front window when shit…I mean the bear comes around and keep your voices down. And please leave room for myself and my select board to get the best view so we can observe and see if Petey does something.”
“Here he comes!” Runyon’s voice called out as he and Ma spied the bear exiting the woods and sauntered towards the diner, his large hairy backside swaying back and forth as he walked along. As he neared the building, the bear’s head bobbed in the air and his nose twitched. Ma smiled and recognized her red hunting hairpin in his jaws that the bear had kept since he and Ma had their first encounter.
Ma entered the dining room with a big plate of syrup-covered waffles. She cracked the front door open and slid the plate out onto the front step as others began to crowd the front windows. Ma took a spot at the diner’s glass front door with the blinds down. She used her hand to peek through two of the blinds as she saw her bear coming around the corner of the diner, its nose leading him to his breakfast.
Rupert, Paul, Jacob, and Bob were closest to Ma, peering out of the front windows as others surrounded them.
“He’s coming.” The mayor announced, “Everyone quiet down.”
Ma watched as her big hairy friend approached the front stairs, placing its huge paws on the second of three steps as his twitching nose located its target. The bear gently laid the hairpin down out of its mouth beside the tasty plate full of sweet waffles. The bear sat back on its hind end and used the stairs as his own personal table as he reached his large paws out and carefully picked up the plate, holding it against his chest and beginning to chow down on the waffles, getting syrup all over his snout, on his paws and dripping down his furry frontside.
The spectators were in awe of the majestic creature. Patrons had their necks stretched and people were switching out at the windows to get a glimpse of the bear through the blinds. Ma chuckled to herself at the front door as she watched her friend satisfy his hunger. “Such a glutton,” she whispered and shook her head. When the plate was empty and the bear had licked it clean, he dropped it and began to lick the syrup from his paws, sitting back and up straight, giving a nod to the chef that he spied through the blinds. Ma smiled and nodded back.
“Okay, folks. Let’s see what Petey does next.” The mayor whispered.
“Shithead!” Came a loud whisper from the front door. “And this time I meant you and not the bear!”
In the front windows now, along with the town leaders and the lawman, were squeezed in Puut, Ruby, Val, Cicely, and Mable. Behind, looking over and around their shoulders were Smirnoff, the McIntyre’s, Father Winkin, Mattie, and Eleanor. Other townsfolk were behind them, each attempting to see what, if anything, the bear would do to predict the winter’s weather. El and Cilla hugged up to Ma to see through the front door and Runyon was against the kitchen’s front window looking from the opposite side at the big bear.
The sun was rising up from the east and it cast a shadow on the bear to the ground beside him under the diner’s front windows where most everyone was watching from. As the bear finished cleaning the syrup off himself, he peered down to the ground, apparently noticing his own shadow.
“Oh, no!” Constable Bob whispered loudly, “He sees his shadow!”
“We can’t count that!” Doody whispered in desperation. “That’s Punkeetunkees thing!”
“Puxatony.” Came from Marmaduke, who was sitting in his usual far corner booth, away from the excitement, enjoying a hot cup of coffee and some waffles.
“Just wait!” The mayor whispered loudly, “He’ll do something else! Give him a bit of time.”
“Oh, crap!” Ma whispered loudly. All heads turning to her, all eyes wide.
“What?” The mayor asked in a low voice.
“His tea! I almost forgot his tea!”
“The bear drinks tea?” Rupert asked surprisingly.
“Well yeah. All that syrup sticks to his mouth and the waffles dry him out.” Ma said casually as she reached over and knocked on the kitchen’s swinging doors. “And he prefers tea over coffee, with a bit of honey added, of course.” Runyon handed Ma a large tin cup with hot, steaming tea through the swinging doors.
Ma cracked open the front door and carefully, however quickly, set the cup on the top step. The bear’s nose perked up again and he reached over with his massive paws and picked up the cup, sat back and tipped the cup upwards, chugging the tasty, hot tea.
“Is that the something we’ve been waiting for?” Doody asked the mayor.
“No, you fool! He’s just enjoying a cup of tea! Ma says he does that every week.” The mayor whispered back annoyingly as Puddleduck Petey finished his tea and dropped the tin cup to the ground. The mayor continued in a low tone, “Okay, folks, he’s either going to do something now, indicating a longer winter, or he’ll just walk away and springs around the corner.”
The big bear rocked on his hind end and continued to sniff the air, grunting happily for a few moments as everyone watched with anticipation. The bear seemed to notice everyone spying him and he raised one paw, waiving in the air.
“He ain’t doing nuthin! He’s just playing! And he sees us!” Daley blurted. The mayor quickly ‘shooshing’ him.
Puddleduck Petey then dropped to all fours and stepped sideways to the front windows. He reared up on his hind legs and placed his front paws on the sills right in front of the mayor, Paul, and Jacob. The three, and everyone, reared back, a bit surprised. The bear sniffed close to the glass, and they all leaned back in cautiously. Petey then let out a loud grunt, jumping everyone behind the windows. Ma chuckled to herself.
“What’s he doing?” Bob asked with a bit of concern in his voice.
“He’s just saying hi.” Ma replied. “He ain’t gonna hurt you. He’s just curious is all. Like some other dumb animals that I know.”
Finally, after several tense moments of the bear sniffing and grunting at the onlookers with his paws up on the windowsills, Shithead the Bear lifted his right leg up high.
“Looks like he’s gonna pee on your diner, Ma.” Joshua McIntyre noticed.
Ma strained to see out the door’s window at her furry friend, “He better not if he knows what’s good for him. No one pees on my diner and still gets breakfast served to them!”
The mayor looked a bit concerned as he hoped that a bear peeing on the diner wasn’t the something they’d been waiting for.
Finally, with one leg still in the air and while doing a balancing act, Puddleduck Petey let out a big, loud bear fart. Onlookers winced as Ma’s eyebrows tilted down, and with a puzzled look on her face she responded to the bear’s breaking of wind, “Huh. Waffles don’t usually do that to him.”
“He farted! He farted!” Ruby bounced and whispered loudly, “That’s something, isn’t it?! Ma just said he doesn’t do that! That’s our sign!”
Ma leaned back away from the door and looked at the small crowd, specifically at the mayor, “Well, there you go, mister mayor, there’s you’re something you’ve been waiting for. A bear fart.”
Mayor Wiggleswort, desperate for the bear to do something else, watched as Puddleduck Petey jumped down on all fours, turned and picked Ma’s red hairpin back up in its snout, and waddled back towards the woods. “Oh, damn.” He said under his breath and dropped his head.
The crowd moved away from the windows and circled in the dining room around the mayor. Rupert, appearing a bit disappointed, tossed the proclamation onto one of the tables. “Well, folks, it’s official. I suppose winter’s going to last another six more weeks. The bear’s ass has spoken.”
“Well, that’s a great way to tell the weather,” Puut commented in his heavily French-accented voice, “What happens if he shits out a whole berry pie? A three-day nor’easter?”
Ma walked up and put her arm around the mayor’s shoulders as others began to help El and Runyon place the booths back up against the windows. “I told you that was a stupid idea. You should have stayed with the groundhog thing in Pennsylvania.” With puppy-dog eyes, Rupert nodded to Ma in response. “I’ll get you a hot cup of coffee. Unless, of course, you want some tea with honey to go with your waffles?” Ma chuckled as she went to get the mayor a fresh cup of coffee. After a step or two she stopped and turned back to the mayor, “And please don’t fart, six more weeks of winter is enough, let’s not go for twelve.”
After the diner was set back up to normal, everyone sat down while Val and Ma served up fresh hot coffee and a bit more breakfast, and townsfolk somberly discussed the topic of winter possibly lasting longer than anyone was prepared for.
* * * *
The next Wednesday Shithead the Bear returned for more waffles and from that day on, and each year thereafter, East Puddleduck’s end of winter would be determined on the Wednesday nearest to Groundhogs Day by a waffle-eating, tea-drinking black bear at Ma’s Diner, with the season’s deciding factor being whether or not Puddleduck Petey has flatulence after he finishes his breakfast.