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Satirical Groundhog Tales Breed a Devoted Following

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page C05

The winter of 1979 was a cold, hard one in Oklahoma City, especially for Megan Hicks. The ground had been frozen solid for two straight months, and Hicks was a brand-new mother, home alone for the first time and depressed. Unable to get it together to send Christmas cards as usual, she made it by early February -- Groundhog Day.

"I thought, 'I've got to send up flares,' " Hicks said.

"I'm very suspicious of the mainstream," says storyteller Megan Hicks. Her annual Groundhog Day stories are spoofs of traditional fairy tales. (Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

Those desperate little dispatches -- which said simply, "Happy Groundhog Day, love Megan" -- have changed radically over the years, as has Hicks.

The Fredericksburg resident, now a professional storyteller, is known in the Washington area for her tales about bullies and "gutsy broads," such as the fictional wife of a modern-day Job (reincarnated as a Texas oil tycoon named Jo-Bob). Hicks also holds a special place this time of year for a growing list of hundreds of friends, family and other fans who eagerly await the 26-year-old Groundhog Day card, now a printed and illustrated four-page story to mark the Feb. 2 holiday.

"It's an annual event, getting her groundhog story," said Rhonda Belyea, who worked for Hicks for a decade at the John Musante Porter Memorial Library in Stafford, where they were librarians.

The list started as 20 immediate friends and family in Oklahoma, where Hicks's parents are from, and has grown to more than 200. Hicks, 54, said the phone starts ringing immediately if people don't receive the story, which always stars at least one groundhog in a spoof of a traditional fairy tale, often one by the Brothers Grimm.

A self-described cynic, Hicks usually combines a hilariously anthropomorphized groundhog and a mocking view of contemporary society's definitions of success.

In "Groundhog Godmother," a groundhog with a Queens accent and a habit of burping can't understand why Cinderella doesn't immediately jump at the chance of going to the ball and attracting a prince.

"But they assured me in school that this was just the thing female humans dream about," the groundhog says.

"I never bought the dream," Cinderella says.

Hicks isn't totally bitter; the story ends with Cinderella falling in love with the ball's caterer and opening an upscale eatery with the groundhog as her business partner.

In a sendup of "The Three Little Pigs," the wolf is a self-doubting actor who gives it all up for a career in public relations with one of the groundhogs, and together they "successfully convince the American public that groundhogs, of all preposterous creatures, are born with the psychic abilities to predict the length of winter." As the story ends, they are making a decent living -- and "some people actually believe in them both. That's as close to living happily ever after as you're going to get in the late 20th century."

Hicks said her somewhat sarcastic view is a way of coping with her own journey, which took her from a childhood in Orange County, Calif., to Oklahoma, which she said has a "stultifying" terrain and culture even as she refers to it as home. She married there and had two children, but when her marriage fell apart after nine years, she was determined to head east.

In 1990, she moved to Fredericksburg, which she describes first with her hands, making a motion as if she was holding a large pumpkin. "It feels here like I'm being held," she said. In Oklahoma, "I felt like spilled milk."

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