Matthew Hart grew up in Northfield, and like so many of us who endured the many winters that shape who we are today, his story, published here in three parts, is a colorful palette of Green Mountain State memories on a snowy white background.   Enjoy and Happy Holidays. 

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  "Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room, and heav'n and nature sing."

Part 1

A parched sprig of mistletoe hovers above my front door.  High enough so the coon-cat cannot reach it try as she may.  “Meow.”  Suspended since late last year, it needs watering but if wet, would dissolve like old lace curtains, so I leave it alone, spinning oh so slow. 

How the screen door got kicked in escapes me -- certainly not by frantic maidens battering their way in to stand beneath the mistletoe; fly paper of love.  During summer skeeters sure ain’t confused about how to get in for a little snack.  Slap.  Not tonight, brother, it is cold, bogs frozen, larvae on ice. 

A symmetric Christmas tree farm engulfs my abode.  Squinting at the treetops as they recede away in straight rows gives me perspective, that and smelling ‘em.  The odor of spruce jogs my memory in a surprising way, strong like ammonia but much more fragrant than one of those pine tree car air fresheners’.  More real.  Not so tinny. 

Right now, at this very moment, it is snowing.  Leaning forward in my rocking chair I watch big white flakes dissipate into nippy darkness.  Almost time to go.  A floorboard squeaks.  I sit still, forgiving, tilt back, it squeaks again.  The hour grows late.  In the night sky a satellite or a comet or an UFO or a B-52 streaks by -- whatever it is it sure moves fast -- makes me think about that jolly little fella taking his annual jaunt down from the North Pole, or thereabouts. 

When Kris Kringle beeps on the radar screen, Loring AFB dispatches two jet fighters that dash around the wintry sky snooping for St. Nick only to return to base without flaming eight tiny reindeer.  This Santa thing is a ritual, like putting holes in doughnuts. 

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All year long I check off passing days on a Montreal Canadian team calendar.  Count backward from New Year’s Eve (365-6) and Christmas is number 359.  Today is 358.  Leap years screw everything up but usually the mid-point is in early July.  Everything after Thanksgiving is a blur as Advent marches on.  The Holidays sure do sneak up fast like the lip of a ski jump.  I lurch forward, throw off a ratty Hudson Bay blanket and rush out the door.  The rest of the screen comes loose.  Now I know. 

Chest forward, I streak through tree branches that touch me lightly as if it were Palm Sunday until I break through a red-ribboned finish line I strung up over Labor Day on a hunch.  Home free.  “Huff puff.”  One deep breath does wonders.  “Ahhhh yessss smells like Christmas.” 

Feeling around by touch I locate the bait pail, sit down, put my hands on my knees and take another snort.  “Little nippy, eh?” – pull up the corduroy collar on my faded jean jacket.  A slow tree breeze turns into a blizzard blast and feathers my wrinkling face with snow.  Stings good.  I lick the white-powder off my feeble mustache -- tastes like eating coffee ice cream in the rain. 

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The big chill is welcomed for I remember July 4th’s sweaty brow and prefer being asnow man.  It figures my favorite season is winter -- my best holiday Christmas.  You should know by now that when I say, “Merry Christmas” I mean it.  For the best results Yuletide greetings should be exchanged in French as its timbre is so soft, like rabbit fur.  In these parts hares effortlessly hop on top of snow leaving tender tracks.  When I make snow angels sometimes, I cry.  I do not know why.  Maybe it is because my arms are empty -- but not my heart. 

Yet I long to whisper “JOYEUX NOEL" in a pierced ear.  Of all Christmas greetings that one has a the most delightful ring to it, resoundingly.  All of Quebec knows this.  Its proud people are willing to be branded as separatists.  So am I.  We do things our way, the right way, the few, the proud, the isolated. 

Earlier today I saw a bunny snug in its fur stole.  It made me wish I had earmuffs which, by the way, were invented in Waterbury, Vermont, along with Ben and Jerry's.  I guess us Vermonters are into cold stuff, be it ear protection or ice cream.  They say Vermont’s cultural prominence is zilch, but we do make practical stuff, sharp cheddar cheese and quiet fellows like Calvin Coolidge.  We may be the craftiest state in the whole damn Union.  Not since Ulysses S. Grant and his wife got buried in New York City, have so few ended up in the right spot. 

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Up here in the Great North Woods where asphalt finally peters out, turns to dirt and dead ends into rare earth, is my spot.  I say, stay away from the shallowness of the hinterlands with its commercialized X-mas trappings that are no match for my Northeast Kingdom traditions. 

Vermont has more Christmas trees than the Japanese have shrines.  Maine has more mangers than the Mid-East.  Montreal has more French-Canadian hockey players than Santa has elves.  But please do not misinterpret me, I do not like everything Gaelic -- I do not tolerate poodles. 

For us bleeding hearts Paris is eternally burning; a pyre emitting an essence of perfume.  Fueled by vanquished love the City of Lights is set ablaze from lost (make that) misplaced romance.  What a torch song I could sing.  Even now thinking about her warms me cockles.  The bait pail sinks a little lower into the snow.  “Is this the year my Christmas wish shall be granted?”  I should know better, me the incompetent keeper of an internal flame, unable to light my own fire. 

Any who, Paris might disappoint should I visit.  For me, it is better to stand at brook’s edge and pretend it is the Seine.  The Left Bank is only a leap away.  Make believe is more plausible with way far fewer setbacks?  Picture this: a bleeding-heart romantic strolling along the shore of a frozen brook in a striped, blue & white jersey and raspberry beret.  No wonder my ears are cold.

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So, ol’ carefree me spends days skipping through trees and jumping brooks.  “Tough life, eh?”  I have grown comfortable doing nothing; in fact, I have made it a cottage industry.  I spend all my time working hard on being a recluse alone with my perfect Christmas recall. 

We do not forget the past rather seek to relive it as we all share a common nostalgia to return to the home of our youth, attempt to bring Currier and Ives prints to life.  Hard to do if you live in a dented silver air- stream trailer propped up on gray cement blocks in the middle of somewhere. 

There is a certain mystery about Christmas that we savor as children, never wanting to solve but alas, as we all know, are forced to confront.  Tucked away in the back of our minds we hold our private hopes, held close to our hearts, deep seeded would of, could of, should of’ s.  I say let the gifting begin.  I’ll take a French lady in a fur coat please. 

Yet we know that we will never ever, ever, duplicate our most memorable Christmas.  Still, we try.  Like Christmas trimmings put in storage, when I pull up my favorite Yuletide memory it restores my spirits -- faith in many things, myself included. 

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By late autumn a nearby waterfall crystallizes into an ice cathedral with polar pews.  Notre Dame Blanche.  This afternoon I snowshoe-ed more than a mile to confess.  Once seated, I remained so still my khakis froze hard and round like stove pipes.  This year a hard winter arrived early.  My appetite increases in the fall (must have a bear in the family).  Between my feet I watch the blue syrup current curl beneath the see-through surface where orange finned native brook trout will arrange themselves upstream in the spring. 

Polishing my inflections, I stayed late.  After the sudden sky succumbed to dusk, I headed back on a trampled snowy path following bamboo ski poles guideposts to my Airstream trailer.  Above the entrance hangs a single yellow light bulb, a warm beacon, it throws a halo into the quickening. 

Inside, the trailer decor is frugal.  Next to the all-important calendar I have a postcard of the Eiffel Tower and Les Habitants team poster on the wall.  Jean Beliveau has a crooked grin.  That’s it.  “No wait let’s look around here for a minute.”  There’s coat tree for my jean jacket and beret, and this rocking chair and the cat’s dish.  Last summer in frustration I trashed my TV.  I threw it out onto the weedy lawn and burned it with turpentine.  The flames licked the maple tree orange.  Whoosh and a one, and a two -- a big blue flash.  Now the burnt-out TV is a bird feeder stuffed with suet rather than a mind fryer.  I should fix the screen door. 

For the holidays, after a bit of a journey to Citgo at the edge of town, I fill the cupboard with snacks. I fetched a can of beer nuts.  Pop the top.  Eat a few.  “Probably will do the whole can tonight”.  Thirsty, I shuffle across my trailer in my duct-taped mukluks to the back door and push it open.  The dim Vermont night intrudes into the warmth.  I step out and break through the snow.  “Where’s that rabbit when you need him?”  

Since deer season ended, I have been observing flakes accumulate on top of long-fallen maple leaves.  My generator-powered refrig gets turned off in winter.  Mother Nature does a fine job cooling stuff, cheaper too.  In the snow I search for a buried mason jar of eggnog -- there it is -- take a long cool pull, breath in the nutmeg.  Of all our senses, smell has the longest memory.  

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With no trouble at all, I easily recall, essence of spruce wreaths and wood fires and wet wool.  So many Christmases have come and gone.  So fond of my recollections I string vivid images together to watch them like a favorite movie.  Repeatedly.  It does not matter if they are not in order.  I see full kitchens and Slate Avenue snowbanks lit by dim streetlights and wide smiles above ugly sweaters.  The prevailing mood is cheerful.  It’s better than happy hour. 

Alas, tonight there is no party to join and to think, as a teen, I begrudgingly attended holiday parties with my family.  The “biggie” was always at the rich neighbor next door.  The lady of the house, Bev, looked like a slightly off Liz Taylor and always answered the door dressed in her latest fur, laced with Channel #5.  She served stiff drinks and a snack mix of cereal, nuts, and pretzels.  “Come on now you know what I mean, Party Mix.”  I hated the stuff.  I suppose if you sipped a few Manhattans with festive red cherries like the stingy adults, it might not have been so bad.  Stuck with my watery orange juice I concentrated on picking out hard to locate peanuts. 

But this is not about nuts or Paris it is about my little-big man secret.  Perchance my best Christmas never happened.  One of the eyewitnesses is in the federal witness protection program.  The other is a reserved, careful retired cop.  Few others willingly talk about it except me.  Christmas will be here in a couple of hours.  I wait up until midnight every Christmas Eve for it.  I got my beer nuts and eggnog, and I am back in my chair with a blanket over my lap and the woods are now overly empty-theater dark and I’ve advanced the movie to my favorite part; the scene when I’m a college sophomore and the jinx becomes real. 

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You can read Part 2 here.