Charlie Hoag holds his new baby groundhog, HuckyToo, at his home in Springfield Township near Holland. Mr. Hoag owned Holland Huckleberry, locally known as a weather prognosticator, who died in 2010.
It's a boy!
And Charlie Hoag has a small piece of yellow paper to prove it.
The receipt reads: "1 male groundhog." The purchase price: $50.
Oh, what a cutie. You just want to squeeze the puddin' out of him.
Tiny enough to tuck into a pocket (and yes, this reporter was so tempted), the newborn, as Mr. Hoag's wife Terri puts it, has "some mighty big paws and a really big hat to fill," but she vows the little guy will do his best.
That really big hat would be the patriotic hat worn by the late, great Holland Huckleberry during his many public appearances, including the annual Feb. 2 Groundhog Day doings at the Hoags' home in Springfield Township.
When Hucky, as he was fondly called, died in 2010, Mr. Hoag vowed to carry on the furry forecaster's traditions. But plans were put on hold after groundhog breeders told him, sorry, too late. All of their babies had been bought.
Fiercely determined not to be left out this year, Mr. Hoag put his name on waiting lists with breeders, including one in Iowa and one in Ohio.
The all-important call came a few days ago from breeder Ron Beech of Bucyrus, Ohio, saying a male groundhog was available from his stock.
On April 17, Mr. and Mrs. Hoag trekked to Crawford County to fetch the baby born on the first day of spring.
So young that it couldn't stand yet, HuckyToo was cradled in Mrs. Hoag's lap on the return trip.
"We've really fallen for our little HuckyToo. It was a little bittersweet on our way down to pick him up. The whole way there, we were thinking about Hucky and reminiscing a lot. Once we got there and held HuckyToo, he won us over and so now we start a new chapter in our lives," Mrs. Hoag said.
E-mail messages to friends and relatives announced the newborn's arrival, and soon the Hoags' home was packed with people eager to hold the infant.
Cathi Bailey, who lives next door to the Hoags, dashed over with one clear intention: "I couldn't wait. I wanted to hold him," she said, and when she did, she, too, fell for the palm-sized pet. "He is so sweet and so snuggly."
People across the region had been asking when the newborn would be coming home, she said. "The community is taken by the little guy," she said.
A second-grade teacher at Crissey School in the Springfield district, Mrs. Bailey looks forward to visits to her classroom by Mr. Hoag and HuckyToo.
Hucky was a Groundhog Day visitor, a learning experience for the students at the school who intently listened to story after story told by Mr. Hoag about the hibernating, seasonal seer.
"That tradition is going to continue," she said.
As Springfield Superintendent Kathryn A. Hott put it, "Just as the 'old' Hucky was always welcome in Springfield classrooms, we look forward to meeting the 'new' Hucky as a welcomed guest."
Charlie Hoag feeds his new baby groundhog, HuckyToo, through an eyedropper.
But first, the little one has some growing up to do.
With his agricultural experience, Mr. Hoag knows firsthand how much groundhogs cotton to soybeans, and that explains why he and his wife stocked up on soy-based infant formula.
At feeding time, Mr. Hoag sprinkles drops of formula on the inside of his wrist, testing the temperature.
"C'mon, buddy," he whispers, gently lifting HuckyToo (he's about the size of a baked potato) from a cage lined with several layers of soft materials, just right for burrowing.
As Mr. Hoag offers the eyedropper, HuckyToo wraps paws around, grasping tightly, letting go only for a quick refill.
"I am not sure how he sucks it down so fast," Mr. Hoag said.
Belly filled for now, the groundhog nudges the eyedropper away.
"Got enough? Want a little more?"
HuckyToo declines. Eyes flutter. Nap time.
"He'll be asleep in about 30 seconds," Mr. Hoag said.
Before he gets too much older, folks want to throw a baby shower. That makes Mr. Hoag chuckle, just the thought of such a party. (Actually, it could be fun, but a head-scratcher: Just what does one take to a baby shower for a groundhog?).
One baby gift already has been bestowed on the newborn: two bags of goldfish-shaped cheese crackers, just like Hucky gleefully gobbled.
It's too soon for HuckyToo to try those treats. "He's just getting his teeth. They're coming in. You can see them when he yawns," said Mr. Hoag, beaming with fatherly pride.
Mr. Hoag hopes the little one will take to guinea pig food as Hucky did. "I think that's why Hucky lived so long. All those vitamins and minerals in that food," he said.
It was in spring, 2000, when a coyote carried off Hucky's mother; the next day, Mr. Hoag rescued the wandering orphan and adopted him.
Hucky is now a perpetual pet, preserved and displayed under glass in the Hoags' home. His internal organs were buried April 2 in the front yard, near a flower pot. "We'll get a grave marker this summer," Mr. Hoag said.
Already on order: a special flag pole. Mr. Hoag plans to teach HuckyToo to raise the flag, paw over paw.
HuckyToo will perform other patriotic duties, such as raising money for Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio. During his lifetime, Hucky raised thousands of dollars to send Springfield Township veterans to Washington to visit the National World War II Memorial.
Soon, the Hoags will receive a state permit to keep HuckyToo as a pet.
A longtime animal breeder, Mr. Beech said groundhogs aren't in big demand, but he does get customers interested in raising them as pets.
"I tell them, they have teeth and claws and like a dog or cat, they will bite. There are days you shouldn't mess with them, and days you can."
Mr. Beech hopes all goes well with the Hoags and their groundhog, noting HuckyToo was a good pick of the litter. "He's got a personality," Mr. Beech said.
That personality could be on public display for the first time in June during the Holland Strawberry Festival parade.
There he'll be, riding atop the Hoags' award-winning float, carrying on yet another Holland Huckleberry tradition.
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