Groundhog lady.

by Tim Soter

ABOVE: An uncredited photo of Jesse The Groundhog Lady

One Summer when I was growing up in Schnecksville, PA my family went on a two and a half hour trip to see the “Groundhog Lady.”  Jesse Nissley lived in Lancaster County, PA and was a wonderful, eccentric, god fearing (and truthfully, probably lonely) woman who had literally turned her house into a groundhog museum.  When my sister and I visited she would welcome us, fellow PA strangers, into her home, plop down on the piano and start singing songs like “Groundy the Groundhog.”  She would take us to her sliding glass windows and point out all of the holes in her dug up backyard, pointing out where each of the goundhogs, which she had named, lived.  She cried as she told the story of accidentally shutting the automatic garage door on one poor groundhog, and then showed us the dent on his nose as she produced him – perfectly taxidermied.

When we went back a second time it seemed that she had gone even further into her obsession, telling us that she had invited one into her home.  “He now has his own room,” she said as she slowly cracked a bedroom door open.  I peeked in but all I could see was a rumpled bedspread with a head of lettuce strewn about on it.

I think this kind of “character,” not to diminish her in any way is a bygone phenomena.  Today she would surely have had her fifteen minutes, whether she wanted it or not, via YouTube or a network reality show.  I’m glad I got to experience her in her glory, especially at an age when it seemed incredibly “wild” and special.  And it was truly wild.

I normally reserve posts to be about my work, but given the holiday and how great she was, I feel like she needs to be mentioned.  I certainly wish I had taken that portrait above.

My family still celebrates Groundhog Day and there’s not a February that’s passed when it hasn’t been mentioned.