"Thirty days have September, April, June and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except February which has forty-four."
"Grraammmpaa!" wailed my fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Shelly.
"What?" I absently replied. "You asked me how many days there were in August. Don't you remember that old saying?
"Why did you say there are forty-four days in February?" Shelly looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes. She knew I had a story for her and began to settle in for what she already knew was coming.
I looked into those eyes and saw the same eyes I fell in love with all those years ago. Her grandmother, Marg, had the same hypnotic eyes that could always read me like a book. I never could get away with anything around her, and I can't get away with anything around our granddaughter either.
At the same time, those eyes are the windows to my favorite ladies' souls. Just as Marg and Shelly could seemingly read my mind, I could always tell their thoughts just by the expression in those incredible eyes.
My name is Sam Casey. Well, I'm Sam to all except Marg to whom I'm Samuel and Shelly who calls me Grampa. I'm now 58 years old, and, because of February, we are raising Shelly. I'll talk more about that later, though.
As I sat back preparing to tell Shelly about my horrors with the month of February, Marg looked around the corner from the kitchen, gave me the stink-eye to warn me and a wink to encourage me. She then disappeared back to the kitchen. See what I mean? With just her eyes, she sent me the message that I could go ahead with my story, but she warned that I needed to remember that my audience was only fourteen. She never had to say a word! God, I love that woman.
"Well, Shelly," I began, "Have you ever noticed that when you are doing something that you really don't want to be doing or when you're someplace you really don't want to be, time seems to drag?"
Shelly nodded and I continued, "Well that's the way I feel about the month of February. Looking back, it seems that everything bad that has ever happened, happened in February."
"What do you mean, Grampa?" Shelly's eyes studied me. She obviously couldn't decide how much of what I was going to tell her was true and how much was going to be a bunch of bull. I could tell by her eyes she figured it would probably be fifty-fifty, and it would be up to her to figure the truth from the fibs. The softening around the corners of her eyes and the slow smile forming on her lips told me that was okay with her, though.
I continued, "As you are aware, your parents died in February." Shelly winced at the memory of her parents dying in a car wreck one snowy February evening. "What you may not know is that your great-grandfather also died in February. Sometimes it appears that the month has it out for us. When you look around, you'll see that most bad things that have happened throughout history actually happened in February. Both World War I and II began in February. Bin-Laden attacked the World Trade Center in February..."
"I call bullshit!" my granddaughter cried. "9/11 happened on September 11th; that's why they call it 9/11!" Shelly's eyes mocked me in triumph. She knew she had caught me.
This was a game we often played. She would challenge me over something I would spout as truth. If she thought I might be wrong, she would research the subject on the Internet and, more often than not, tell me I was full of it. I have begun to use my storytelling as a learning tool for Shelly. She has become very good at using the Internet to increase her knowledge base.
Shelly takes pride in proving me right or wrong. She has even developed what she calls her "bullshit meter." She and her grandmother will sit and listen to whatever story I may be telling with their arms crossed. As they start to suspect that the story is progressing past the realm of truth, one arm will start rising, sort of like an old analog voltmeter. I feign outrage, but, secretly, I am proud that my granddaughter is so perceptive.
"Osama started planning the attacks in February; check it out," I replied as I sat back with a smile on my face. I knew she would, too, but not until later. I heard a "Harrumph" from the kitchen.
I continued with my tirade over the abomination called February. "My first girlfriend dumped me in February. My first dog died in February. I got the measles and mumps in February – same month, different years. The Cubs lost the Pennant in February."
Shelly stopped me, "How could the Cubs lose the Pennant in February? Baseball is a summer sport."
"The end of February is when pitchers report for spring training," I informed her as if that explained it all.
Shelly quickly switched subjects. "How did your dog die?" Her eyes flashed sympathy for my pain over my annually inept Chicago Cubs and then flashed curiosity over the loss of my first pet.
I thought of my first dog. "Count was a boxer. He was more than my pet; he was the neighborhood pet. Wherever the kids were playing, he was sure to be there romping with the bigger kids and watching over the younger kids. The parents loved him because they knew he would never hurt any of "his" kids, and any stranger that might try to approach any of the children would surely regret that decision.
"We were out skating on the pond across the street. The guys were playing hockey and the girls and smaller children were playing other games like 'Tag' and 'Crack the Whip.' There was one area on the far side of the pond where the ice was always thin because the spring that fed the pond was located in that spot. We all knew to stay away from that part of the pond, but sometimes, shit happens.
"That day, some of the kids were playing Crack the Whip when a young girl on the end was 'cracked' loose. She fell and started to slide across the ice towards the thin ice. Screams went up as she approached what we all knew was the dangerous ice. Those of us playing hockey stopped when we heard the screams. As I saw what was about to happen, I started skating as hard as I could, knowing I could never get there in time. Suddenly, Count flew by me in a big brown streak. I continued skating as fast as I could, knowing that Count was going to need help.
"I can't even remember the young girl's name, but she fell through the ice just moments before Count arrived. Count took one big leap through the ice and surfaced with the girl in his jaws. He struggled towards shore, a mere fifteen feet away. Unfortunately, because of the spring, the lake bottom sloped off quite steeply from the shore. I knew that the water was about five feet deep where Count struggled with the girl, so I could stand. I also knew that with hypothermia setting in that I only had seconds to get them out of the water. I approached the edge of the ice as fast as I could and, at the last second, leapt as high and as long as I could manage.
"I splashed into the water and grabbed the girl from Count. Thrashing through the freezing water as quickly as I could, I made for shore. As I got near, I literally threw her onto the shore where some of our friends had come running around the shoreline. She was quickly wrapped in coats and taken to the nearest house. I turned to find Count just as he slid down into the depths of the pond. I could see the look of goodbye in his eyes as his head went under. I started go back for him, but two of my friends grabbed me and pulled me back. I sat on the bank of the pond and cried. We didn't find his body until spring."
Shelly crawled into my lap, and together we mourned that heroic animal.
After a while, Shelly stirred, looking at me with eyes full of love. She said, "I understand now why you don't like February. What I don't understand is why you say February has forty-four days and not forty-five."
I smiled down at this young lady who was becoming more and more like her grandmother every day. I finally replied, "Valentine's Day."
Shelly's eyes said it all without words – confusion, then understanding, and then more confusion.
"Okay, I get it. You and Gramma were married on Valentine's Day. But what I don't understand is if you hated February so much, why did you get married in that month? Come on Grampa, tell me the story."
"Well, you know we were married on Valentine's Day, but you may not know we actually met for the first time the previous Valentine's Day." I began my story.
"Oh boy, this ought to be good!" Shelly said with a grin.
Just then, Marg looked around the corner to give me a look reminding me to be careful – I was talking to an impressionable young lady. It's amazing how much she can communicate to me without speaking. In that moment, I wondered for the millionth time how I was so lucky to be Marg's one and only.
"I was twenty-two when we met. I had gone out with a couple of friends to a bar for a couple of drinks after work. We were standing at the bar bemoaning the fact that it was Valentine's Day and none of us had dates. I felt a presence to my left, and when I looked down, I saw the most incredible set of legs I had ever seen. They started at her ankles and rose magnificently all the way up to – well, I had to imagine where they ended because they disappeared beneath a very short mini-skirt.
"I gazed up from ankles to skirt, back down to ankles and back up again. This time, my eyes continued up until I found myself looking into the most incredible set of eyes I had ever seen. They were a brilliant shade of emerald green and, at the moment, were narrowed into a look that warned me I was in dangerous territory."
.... There is more of this story ...