February is a favorite month for many people. Everyone likes to think of someone special on the 14th – Valentine’s Day. But there are many other days that are even more special. We have several family birthdays that month. Our great-granddaughter, Gracie, will be 8 this month, but I like the 1st because it’s my birthday! I have 2 best friends who also have birthday shortly after mine. For us, February is Birthday Month.
February is squished in between January and March. It has less days than all the other months, and those special folks born on the 29th hopefully get to celebrate more than once every four years. The original Roman calendar only had ten months, because, curiously, the Romans didn’t separate or distinguish winter. In the 700s BC, the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, changed that by adding January and February to the end of the calendar in order to conform to how long it actually takes the Earth to go around the Sun. The two new months were both originally 28 days long. It is lost to history why January acquired more days and February less.
Here is yet another one of our short stories. Hope you enjoy them again each month this year. (If you do read and enjoy them, drop us a note. We’d love to hear from you). A few years ago after hiking in the Greenbrier area of Tennessee, we came across a cabin and a family cemetery plot with many gravestones dated 1909 and wondered what had happened during that winter, so we researched. This is Jack’s story of one family.
Catherine Owens shoved the cabin door open and stumbled to her rocking chair. The half-mile walk from the family cemetery tired her more today. Her husband, Roy, followed and their three youngsters jostled one another to get through the door first.
“You all right?” he asked concerned over her discomfort.
“A little tired. This baby I’m carrying sure seems bigger than our other three. I’ll really be glad when spring is here. This winter is already starting badly with the death of your pa.” She took his hand. “How are you doing?”
Roy squeezed her hand and then walked over to the window staring toward his father’s nearby cabin. “Well, I’ll certainly miss him. I figured he’d be around for many more years. You just don’t know.”
“It’s sad. Now Emma is alone—course we are within shoutin’ distance.”
“Ma’s a strong woman,” Roy said. “She’ll be all right once the initial shock is over.”
Turning toward Catherine, Roy continued. “As if life isn’t hard enough already, the other men were saying that the Almanac predicts this to be one of the coldest winters on record. Guess I better lay-up plenty of wood and supplies. Maybe you and the children can put up more newspaper on the walls to help keep the cold out.”
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Two brutally cold months passed, along with the Christmas celebration.
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Catherine pulled the curtains back and peered through the window. “Is it ever going to stop snowing? It must be a couple of feet deep.” She wiped off the window with her fingers. “I’ve never seen it snow like this before.”
The latch on the door lifted as Roy pushed it open with his foot. Carrying another load of wood over to the fireplace, he started coughing uncontrollably and dropped the load onto the floor.
Catherine grimaced. “You need to get to Knoxville and get that cough checked out. Maybe ya got pneumonia or something worse.”
“I’ll be all right. Just this cold weather. Besides, it would take me a month to get there in this snow, and I just don’t have the time to do that,” he said catching his breath. “Henry,” he hollered to his oldest son, “get your coat on and help me bring some more wood in.” His words again interrupted by coughs.
Twelve-year-old Henry climbed down the ladder from the loft, perturbed that he had to go out into the cold.
“Roy, you should stay in and rest. I’ll make you some tea that will help that cough.” Catherine started to get up from her chair.
“I’ll be fine. Just sit. Come on son. Let’s go get that wood.” Roy wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
Mary Alice came down the ladder slowly. She continued coughing. “Mama, I don’t feel good.”
“Come here and let me see if you have a temperature,” Catherine motioned her to come to her. “My, you’re hot. You definitely have a fever. You must have what your pa has. Albert, go outside and get a bucket of snow.” Catherine said gently rocking Mary Alice. The eight-year old threw his coat on, grabbed a bucket, and ran out the door.
“Mama, Mama!” Henry yelled from outside.
Mary Alice slid off her mother’s lap and sat by the fireplace while Catherine got up and went to the door. “Henry, what’s the matter?” she shouted.
“Pa fell down and won’t get up,” he said trudging as fast as he could through the snow.
Catherine grabbed her coat from the peg and went out to the porch. “Where is he, Henry?”
“Back by the barn, near the woodpile,” he replied.
Catherine worked her way back to the barn through the deep snow with Henry right behind her. Roy lay motionless with his face down in the snow. After rolling him over, she put her head down on his chest and heard a faint heartbeat. “Quick, Henry, Albert, help me get your pa into the house.”
They managed to drag Roy into the house and laid his semi-unconscious body near the fireplace. “Henry, you’ve got to go down the hill to the Profitt’s house and get some help.”
Catherine put a snow-filled towel on Roy’s forehead and another one on Mary Alice. She said a quick prayer and sat back down in the rocking chair. Tears quickly streamed down her cheeks the faster she rocked.
Two candles cast eerie shadows on the wall when Henry returned. He opened the door and entered with Emmett Profitt and his two sons following. Emmett looked at Roy and turned to Catherine and said, “We need to get him to Knoxville. Catherine, it doesn’t look good. Maybe it’s that deadly flu that’s goin’ round.”
“Mary Alice has the same symptoms. Could you take her also?” Catherine’s voice quivered as she tried to hold back the tears.
“We’ll do our best. Catherine. Travel is really poor up here.”
(PART 2 continues next month)