Look for February’s hopeful signs

Bruce Stambaugh
Feb 4 · 3 min read
Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I have always had a thing for February. Perhaps it’s my penchant for the underdog.

After all, February is the shortest month of every year, even if it’s a leap year. Still, there is a charm about the second month that casts a spell on me.

As a youngster, I marveled at the array of holidays that February offered up. In elementary school, we drew and colored log cabins in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. I’m so old that Congress hadn’t yet invented a Monday President’s Day holiday.

For inspiration for our amateurish creations, all we had to do was look up from our slanted-top wooden desks. A reproduced painting of Old Abe gazed down at us from above the slate blackboard.

Right beside him was the father of our country, George Washington. They both seemed rather grim and stern. But we were taught the romantic legends of these great men. They held my attention and respect for their leadership to the country.

The next art lesson was always preparing for Valentine’s Day. We all did our best to create and decorate our Valentine boxes to collect classmates’ Valentine’s. The expectations were that everyone gave a valentine to every other classmate. If I remember correctly, we even had contests for the prettiest, funniest, and most creative.

I don’t remember ever winning any awards, but that was insignificant. I looked forward to Valentine’s parties with fruit punch and delicious homemade cookies that room mothers hosted. Besides, it got us out of class time.

We also cut out red, pink, and white hearts to plaster on the old single-pane, iron-framed windows that let in plenty of cold air even when they were closed. Thank goodness for the old silver-painted steam radiators that kept us cozy all through the winter.

Up next was George’s birthday on the 22nd. Black and brown axes and miniature cherry trees replaced the construction paper hearts on the windows. I often wonder if our teachers knew that that tale of chopping down the cherry tree was false even as they told it. If so, the irony itself makes my point.

Today, of course, we know better. Or at least we should. However, it astounds me that it has taken all these years to expose the uncomfortable facts. It is incumbent upon us all to learn about the ill-treatment of generations of people of color. History is only accurate when the truth is told.

Frederick Douglas grave, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

February is Black History Month for a good reason. It expanded from Black History Week in honor of the birthday of both Lincoln and abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglas, who was born on the 20th.

I like February for other reasons, too. Despite the potential for additional cold temperatures and snow, signs of spring are emerging regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil predicts. We merely have to pay attention.

The days are growing longer. The sap is running, and maple sugaring is in full swing. Look closely, and you’ll discover shoots of green pushing their way ever so slowly through loamy soil and mulch. The promise of colorful blossoms emerges.

Migratory birds have already begun their trek north again. Those that dull their feathers for winter protection have started to molt into their mating regalia.

If a February thaw happens, our appetites for spring are wetted. However, let’s not be too anxious and get ahead of ourselves. There is still plenty of winter to come.

It may be the year’s shortest month, but February always has a lot to offer.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium