About Me

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Riverside County, California, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 24 times over and a great-grandmother of 13. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I am a Board Certified genealogist and more information on all this, as well as direct contact info, is on my Circlemending website.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Music, Ancestors, and Groundhogs

Did you know that Tuesday was Groundhog Day? It's an important day as it determines what will happen over the next 6 weeks. Of course, that will vary depending on where you (and the applicable groundhog) happen to be living. Punxsutawney Phil (in Pennsylvania) saw his shadow and reported 6 more weeks of winter, but Jimmy, the Grand Prairie (Wisconsin) prognosticator said it was cloudy so no shadow and an early spring (which I figure will come in about a month & a half . . . you do the math). But I'm in California where the closest "official" groundhog is Petaluma Pete, whose report has not been provided (at least, not at Groundhog Central, where I turn for the most accurate groundhog data, and where you can find the various reports of other North American whistle pigs).

Of course, groundhog day is not unique to America. The tradition comes from Germany with Candlemas Day where the saying went "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,/ So far will the snow swirl until May./ For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,/ So far with the sun shine before May." To learn about other traditions and this season-altering day, see The Stormfax Weather Almanac.

What does this have to do with music? Well, while some groundhog websites actually do provide "groundhog day carols," these are not likely to be show-stoppers in any holiday gathering honoring the furry creature. But there is a groundhog song that has been around for many, many years . . . it just ends with the little guy not lorded as the resident hero, but, rather, well, dinner! I have loved this song since I was a child (but am pleased to report that I have never attempted to, in any way, "live out" the lyrics).

I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois (2 suburbs north of Chicago, along the lake); just a couple of blocks away lived the Armstrong family - George & Gerry and their daughters Becky & Jenny. This was a family where the tradition of family singing was an actuality. I never stopped by to visit without music being part of the time spent together. George & Gerry, who are both gone now, made a number of recordings, including their daughters on many of them. They introduced me to "The Groundhog Song" and sing it with enthusiasm that makes one forget that they are singing about cooking up our favorite weather forecaster! One the Wolf Folklore Collection website, you can read the lyrics, listen to the Armstrongs (accompanying themselves on an Appalachian dulcimer), and read a short dialog between the Armstrongs and Jimmy Driftwood.

Other groups and individuals have also recorded the song; some variations in lyrics are found (a common occurrence - it's called "the folk process" where people add, subtract, or adapt words as circumstances and preferences apply). I found a bluegrass version of it that is quite different from the Armstrongs' song. Doc Watson also recorded it with some interesting lyrics; to hear this version, here's a link to the YouTube version that also allows you to download it as a ringtone for your cell phone (now that would certainly get you some strange looks when your cell phone rings!).

If you would like to have a copy of that song for your very own, on CD, I recorded it in 2008 on my "Songs of Appalachian Ancestors" recording. It's a song that's been part of my life since I was a child, but also one that reminds me of my earliest introduction to folk music. Though I may never eat a groundhog (I make no promises, but I don't foresee it as being part of my future at this point), it's a song that makes me smile & reminds me of old friends & good times. And, since this song has been around for quite a while (I have not found an estimated date of its origin but would love to hear from anyone who has an idea), maybe one of your ancestors sang it.

Note: No groundhogs were hurt or killed in the creation of this blog.

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