A Most Unusual Houseguest

Groundhog Day always makes me think back to 1990. For the February 1991 issue, we decided to do a take-off on the fact that Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue traditionally hit newsstands that month. As a twist, we decided to incorporate our own weather prognosticator, Octoraro Orphie, into the cover. A pretty girl (Wendi Matyas), a stylish swimsuit (from Doneckers) and Lancaster’s most famous groundhog would have readers dreaming of spring.

Note: Octoraro Orphie is not a live animal.

In early November, I called Dr. James Pennington, who was Orphie’s “handler” at the time, to ask if we could borrow the Slumbering Groundhog’s mascot for the December photo shoot. He said it would be no problem, except he was going to Florida and would not be back until Christmas. Then, he dropped a bombshell. “Just come down and get him, but make sure he’s back to me before Groundhog Day.” So, I drove to Quarryville, where Dr. Pennington handed Orphie over to me.

As I headed back to Lancaster with Orphie riding shotgun in the passenger seat, I wondered what I would do with him. Keep him in my office? Take him to the photography studio for safekeeping? Rent a large safety deposit box? In the end, I decided Orphie would be my houseguest for the next two months. So, I took him home and found a spot for him in the living room. To be honest, having him at my house made me nervous. I kept envisioning my house burning down and having Orphie go up in smoke. I dreamed that robbers absconded with him and held him for ransom. I worried that he would fall and lose an arm or leg. It was nerve-wracking!

My son, Charlie, who was 9 years old at the time, had been campaigning to get a dog. He saw taking care of Orphie as his chance to convince me that he would be a responsible pet owner. Orphie watched television with Charlie. Orphie ate breakfast with Charlie. Orphie posed for pictures with Charlie. Orphie “slept” in Charlie’s room at night. Orphie even had a place at the Thanksgiving table. My mother tried her best to ignore the varmint that was sitting across from her, while my father acted as if it was perfectly normal to have a groundhog take part in Thanksgiving dinner.

The photo shoot went off without a hitch. Orphie was returned to Quarryville just in time to spend Christmas with the Penningtons. And, no, Charlie did not get his dog. That happened about seven years later, when a dog from Spain kept mysteriously appearing and disappearing from the house. But that’s a whole other animal story!

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