February’s here again – with it’s usual associations. Naturally each of us has his or her own associations; I have a friend who never loses the chance to remind us that there are two “Rs” in February and we should pronounce them both. Sara Coleridge stated that “February brings the rain / That thaws the frozen lake again.” Not my lake, but whatever. Perhaps everyone else is too young to remember her little ditty, but I hold a grudge against her because she promised “dancing daffodils” in March and I got a totally skewed vision of March, in spite of years of snow up to here.
When I was a child in a little country school, February was for Lincoln, Washington, and valentines. I have never felt the same since Washington and Lincoln were forced to share a holiday with all the other presidents. I mean, James Buchanan? We were taught great stories of Lincoln doing his schoolwork by the light of the fire, and George Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Rappahannock; of Lincoln walking back several miles to return change, and Washington confessing to his father that it was he indeed who chopped down the cherry tree. Since then we have been told many times that Parson Weems made up his stories about Washington. I am never sure what it says about the American character that Weems told a lie to emphasize that Washington always told the truth, but however that is, cherries became associated with old George, and my grandmother always made a cherry pie for his birthday.
Thousands of kids donned construction paper top hats and skimpy beards to recite the Gettysburg Address. Boys, at least. Girls were probably making the pies and waiting for a chance at the presidency, which hasn’t changed a whole lot. but we did memorize the Gettysburg Address. Now we are lucky if our kids can memorize their own addresses, but they seem to get by. Be that as it may, anything I have learned about any other president has been pretty limited to a haphazard interest of my own. Did you know that John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator in the White House? I don’t know how you tell if an alligator is a pet or another opportunist looking for a handout, but Adams kept it in the East Room, which I guess seemed like an obvious choice at the time. You really wanted to know that, I’m sure.
Then there were the valentines. Punny or pretty or delightfully handmade, they were always bright and cheerful, bringing pink and red into our lives in the middle of the white cold. By the time I was in school the custom of everyone bringing a valentine for everyone else was in vogue, so there were no broken hearts, no angst, no tears. Just fun. And cupcakes. There were, of course, cookies sprinkled with colored sugar and other treats of varying sweetness, but cupcakes were my favorite. Everyone got a little cake of her or his own, which was so much more special that having a cookie of one’s own. I made my share when my children were young – one of them, who adored chocolate, asked me to please make yellow cake because one of her friends did not like chocolate, and she wanted him to be able to share. I did, because what is Valentine’s day about if not friends and sharing?
So February, in my experience, brings doubtful history, and cherry pie, valentines and cupcakes. The lake can thaw on its own, when it’s ready.