The great groundhog giveaway.
Groundhog banners filled the air. Abel's Corner Bakery made special blueberry muffins with blueberries poking out, just like a groundhog's head from a hole.
A big sign over the counter told customers that with every dozen muffins they would receive a stuffed toy groundhog from the basket.
Everyone was excited. Well, almost everyone.
Groundpa, Groundma, and their large family of groundhogs snuggled together, fast asleep in their underground den. The door to the tunnel was slightly ajar, letting in a little fresh air. But early on February 1, it also let in something else: the smell of blueberry muffins.
Groundpa's nose wiggled. His nose woke up his body, but not his brain.
"GROUNDPA'S GONE!" Gary shouted.
Nobody noticed as a nightcapped, sleepwalking groundhog slipped from his tunnel and made his way to the corner and through the open back door of the bakery. Still sleeping, he munched down a blueberry muffin. Then, thinking he was home among family, he curled up in the basket of giveaway toys and kept on snoozing.
An hour later, the bakery opened for business. The first customer in line ordered a dozen blueberry muffins, which came with the special stuffed toy. But in this case, the groundhog wasn't a toy. It was Groundpa Groundhog, fast asleep. He was dropped into a bag, then taken away and given to little Katherine Hale.
As Groundpa continued to snooze, he was propped on a pillow among a gang of stuffed toys. His nightcap had been left behind at the bakery.
It was after nightfall on February 1 when Gary, Groundpa's youngest grandson, woke up. He stretched and glanced at the calendar. Tomorrow morning was Groundpa's big day.
Then he looked around.
"GROUNDPA'S GONE!" Gary shouted, waking everyone in the den.
What a hubbub! The family searched the den, but Groundpa was nowhere to be found.
"Probably sleepwalking again," Groundma said. "Who knows how far he's gone this time."
Soon groups of groundhogs galloped out of the hole, scattering through the dark town. They had only a few hours left to find Groundpa.
Gary's was the last head to poke out. His nose wiggled.
Muffins? Blueberry muffins? Groundpa foueti blueberry muffins
Gary followed the smell, scurrying through the open back door of the bakery
"Groundpa!" Gary shouted when he saw the basket of toys. As he got closer, he realized his mistake. But what was Groundpa's nightcap doing here? He read the toy-giveaway sign and immediately knew: they'd given Groundpa away! Groundpa could be anywhere. How would the family find him before dawn? Then Gary's nose wiggled again.
Muffins. Blueberr muffins!
Gary dodged back into the kitchen and grabbed his last, best hope. Then he dashed out of the bakery, leaving a soon-to-be-puzzled baker one muffin short of a dozen.
Waving a muffin in the air, Gary charged through town. The smell of the freshly baked muffin wafted along the streets and into the home of Katherine Hale. The scent twirled around the noses of her stuffed toys.
Groundpa stirred. His nose wiggled. The smell woke up his body but not his brain. Groundpa sleepwalked across the pillow, over the sleeping Katherine, down a quilt, out the dog door, and into the street -- where Gary was waiting to lead him home.
The whole family was gathered at the den, trying to decide what to do.
"Problem solved!" Gary called as he led Groundpa down the tunnel.
Groundpa, still fast asleep, got back in bed. Just as he snuggled in, however, the alarm rang;
Groundpa stretched and yawned. "February 2 already?"
Then he spotted the muffin. "Wonderful! That'll hit the spot." He popped it into his mouth.
Groundma got out Groundpa's suit. Gary found his hat.
They could hear the townspeople gathering outside. A band was playing, and people were shouting, "No shadow!"
"Showtime!" Groundpa laughed and scurried along the tunnel to the hole's entrance.
His family waited below. They heard a loud groan from the crowd overhead.
Soon Groundpa was back. "A beautiful day! We can nap for six more weeks," he said. "I don't know why, but I'm still tired." He flopped down and was out like a light.
"Back to bed," Groundma said. 'And this time, lock the door!"
By Teresa Batsman Art by Pete Whitehead