For most of my adult life, February has been my least favorite month. It’s the shortest month on the calendar, but it can seem interminably long.
I didn’t feel that way when I was young. Back in grade school, February was when we talked about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their birthdays weren’t lumped together in a Presidents Day holiday back then. They were observed separately. I don’t know about you, but in my schools, Washington and Lincoln got extra attention because of their stature as the bookends on Mount Rushmore. I’d been there a few times. I’d seen the mountain and the faces. Their prominence made me feel important.
In the early grades, we’d do activities such as making construction-paper silhouettes of the two former presidents. My motor skills developed late, so my cut-outs always looked as if they’d blown off my desk, out the window and across the gravel of the playground. My assignments usually came back with a notation to “try to be neater.’’
As we progressed through the elementary grades, we read stories about Washington chopping down a cherry tree and ‘fessing up to the bit of tomfoolery and about Lincoln trudging home from a one-room school in the snow and doing his ciphers at night in a rustic log cabin, using a bit of charcoal from the fireplace as his writing instrument. I thought those were pretty good stories. I was starting to read Mark Twain’s novels about the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, so I was beginning to really appreciate a good yarn.
It seems to me that in high school, especially after I began dating the girl who sat in front of me in study hall, all February meant was that I had to work up the courage to buy a Valentine’s Day gift. I really liked that girl, but I really hated to be caught standing in front of the greeting cards or the displays of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. I forced myself to do that. I really, really liked that girl.
After high school is when February turned sour for me. I think it started at Creighton when I was a freshman. Omaha could be a lonely town for an 18-year-old guy in love with a young woman six hours away. From the window of my second-floor room in Wareham Hall, I could see across half of the city. In winter, that view was mostly the haze of city lights reflecting off low-hanging clouds and the violent whipping of tree branches being pounded by fierce February winds.
The thing was, fall on campus was comfortable. Fallen leaves skittered across the sidewalks and the ebbing sun created wonderfully warm colors in the afternoons. December brought Christmas break. In those days, January offered a short end-of-semester break. February had nothing except 28 (and in Leap Year 29) days to endure until March when the world would begin to warm and Easter break could be anticipated.
I suppose it was that lack of any break in the February bleakness that caused fights to break out throughout the rooms on Fourth East in Brown Hall after I transferred to South Dakota State. We did pretty well during the week, most of the time. I mean, we had classes to fill part of the day, meals at the Commons and homework and required reading in the evenings. On weekend, we had 48 hours to survive before Monday would break the monotony. All it took was a cross word during a game of matchstick poker or a misunderstood jest during a gab fest and fists would fly. They don’t include stuff like that in the freshman orientations, as far as I know.
I’ve never been comfortable with conflict. The tension in our dorm wing had me wishing for April and May all the time, especially when the snow hit the windows, created drifts across the sidewalks and piled against the front door.
“February made me shiver,’’ the singer says in “American Pie.’’ Me, too, both physically and emotionally. And right on schedule, the weather report says we’re about to have the coldest temperatures of the year. Yup, it’s February.