For many residents of regions that annually experience a notable change of seasons, with very distinct transitions from the warmth of summer to the cold of winter, the month of February is a particularly bleak time of year. The peak of winter is cold and grey. The merriment of the Christmas season and New Year is long over, and the approach of spring too distant to contemplate. For Helen Keller, the month of February represented something even more pernicious: the illness that deprived her of her sight and of her ability to hear and speak. Keller relates this obviously formative episode of her life in her memoir of growing up a blind mute:
"They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. . .These happy days did not last long. . . [I]n the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby."
Later in the published version of her memoir, Keller is again quoted as reflecting on this period of her life, and of the bleakness of the month in which her illness occurred:
"But the brightest summer has winter behind it. In the cold, dreary month of February, when I was nineteen months old, I had a serious illness. I still have confused memories of that illness. My mother sat beside my little bed and tried to sooth my feverish moans while in her troubled heart she prayed . . . But the fever grew and flamed in my eyes and for several days my kind physician thought I would die."
For Keller, the month of February would forever be identified with her affliction, which she was able to overcome through the efforts of her extraordinarily gifted and tenacious teacher, Ann Sullivan. There would, however, be another moment of sadness in Keller's life that would also occur in a February. A close friend and financial benefactor, John Spaulding, died in February 1896, adding an even greater sense of ennui to that particular month.