February, short but sweet

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Portions of this column appeared in 2002.

My old copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations surprised me: No entry for February among its vast hoard of words, except for the nursery rhyme, “Thirty days hath September….”
The framers of our calendar were merciful in dealing to this wintry month only four rounded-off weeks of weeping skies. Would they have been so thoughtful with January.

But look a little closer at the tiny month we’re in, and see how it stands like a gray curtain, ready to part as the lights come up, showing us a rainbow of warmer days, life reasserting its hold on the earth, the promise of spring.
The doors may be open on some February days, so warm is the damp air, and the rush of run-off water is plainly audible from inside the house. Rain sluices down the glass, spatters on the rocks under the eaves, tears at pine straw and clay and finds its way to torrents rushing into storm sewers.

If February teases us with a break in the clouds, know a scam when you see one. In just a matter of hours, a winter storm can grip our homes and streets again, reminding us with broken pipes and howling window frames that our vigilance against the forces of nature can never relax entirely,
So we try to brighten our dismal calendar with holidays, times to be grateful for events which helped make our world the really good place it usually is.

It was on a dark February day that composers Mendelssohn, Chopin, Händel, Rossini, and Victor Herbert were born. Imagine the world without their music.
Or without artists to perform it: Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler and Enrico Caruso also debuted in February.
Do you suppose their February birthdays inspired Winslow Homer, Grant Wood and French impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir to color the world with their own special visions of sea and sky, faces and flowers?

Galileo, Charles Darwin and Thomas Edison figuratively or literally enlightened us, and each of them first saw daylight in February.
Babe Ruth was born in February, and it was on Feb.20 that John Glenn took America’s space program into orbit.
Two historical figures honored universally for their wisdom and leadership – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – were, of course, born this month, and so were two American generals, Joe Johnston and William Sherman.

Literature was blessed most bountifully in February. Victor Hugo, James Joyce, Charles Dickens and Sinclair Lewis began their lives this month; so did poets Sidney Lanier, Amy Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
February was not auspicious for Mary, queen of Scots, nor for the captain and crew of the battleship Maine.

But to balance the scale: Edison patented the phonograph in February, inspired perhaps by a boring Valentine’s Day dance, and on Feb. 8, 1910, the Boy Scouts of America incorporated.
The Washington Monument was dedicated in February 1885, 26 years after the laying of its cornerstone. The Gettysburg National Park was established by Congress Feb. 11, 1895.
It’s fitting that the U.S. Weather Service was established in this month in 1870, but an even more positive step was taken by the United States to find relief from Northern winters: We purchased the Florida territory from Spain.

A few other historical notes: On Feb. 11, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Ill., to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. On Feb. 22, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America in Richmond, Va.
On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit Earth. Apollo 14 astronauts spent about 10 hours exploring the surface of the moon in February, 1971.
This is the month when the optimist plants peas and turnips, and the pessimist stocks up on decongestants and orange juice, and when lovers give gifts and make plans for June.

Be of good cheer! Put on boots and a raincoat and see for yourself: There are daffodils out there, stalking the reluctant sun. Goldfinches and nuthatches vie for sunflower seeds in the feeders and if you look closely, you’ll see a bit of swelling in the leaf buds. And see? There’s almost an hour more of daylight by the end of this short month.
Then come back in, start a pot of soup and lay a fire on the hearth. February is best observed from a warm chair with a good book.

Most historical references are provided by The American Almanac, edited by Calvin D. Linton, Ph.D.

[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]