Happy Groundhog Day. The small, prognosticating furry rodent is too easy to overlook sandwiched between Superbowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day. But to skip its celebration is to inadvertently slight one of the most noble features of our human soul. I don’t refer to Homo sapiens’ intellect with which we have invented the wondrous, technological machinery of weather prediction.
No, I refer to a human trait far deeper and greater – the trait which drives all human achievement, – the trait which actor Bill Murray explored in at least two, now classic-American movies. In both Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, Bill Murray hilariously dramatizes the angst our human souls suffer on our perpetual, often futile, quests. To live in quest is to live a human. To be repeatedly thwarted is the human comedy. And who is Bill Murray’s foil in both films? – a groundhog.
In Caddyshack, Murray battles the rodent who keeps him from achieving the perfect lawn – an unattainable goal to which Murray’s character commits his life. As Captain Ahab hunts his Moby Dick, Murray hunts his groundhog. The quests drive them both insane. Murray battles the groundhog again in Groundhog Day, a film in which Murray’s character fights existential despair evoked by re-living February 2nd over and over again in Punxsutawney, PA. Finally, only through the extreme effort of personal transformation, does Murray defeat the groundhog and break through to the new day, February 3rd.
In both movies, Murray’s characters refuse to forfeit their quests. They persevere – similar to Wisconsinites in winter. Yes, we Wisconsinites keep shoveling snow, layering our clothes, and paying our heating bills. Sure we have Sun Prairie, Wisconsin’s Jimmy the groundhog telling us that winter will last six more weeks. But every Wisconsinite knows Jimmy lies; spring won’t come for at least eight. Despite the truth, we are true to our human souls; we continue our quest, a quest for spring. We study seed catalogs, we cheer our neighbors with “It’s going to get up to 30 today!” and we spread rumors of spring songs erupting from (misguided) birds. Our hope for spring eternally fuels our quest.
Eventually spring does come, so this quest is not futile like another quest played out by conscientious parents night after night at dinner tables around the world. Like Murray in Groundhog Day, parents go to elaborate lengths to bring in a new day. We parents quest for a time when our children will willingly eat vegetables. Each evening, we try a new tact to manipulate healthy plants into small stomachs. We disguise vegetables in colorful sauces; we chop vegetables into microscopic bits and bury them under piles of starch.
It is in this shared parental quest for our children’s good health that this Groundhog Day I offer a strategic recipe, Donna Weihofen’s recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. (It’s on the side page, Everday dinners easy enough to fix everyday.) Shepherd’s Pie is aesthetically appropriate for Groundhog Day. Like snow, white mashed potatoes blanket brown ground (beef). Studded within the beef are seeds of good health – peas and carrots. While children enjoy tasty meat and mashed potatoes, healthy carrots and peas slip into their tummies.