Author's Note

When I cannot sleep but need to rest, I recall during winter hikes taking respite in a spruce tree-well on a snowy hill above my childhood home in Vermont.  I would stray there well after dusk pausing against the wind in the steel-blue fading of the day before heading home with boots full of snow and the freshness of childhood, where anything and all things are possible, when you close your eyes and think so.


Image taken at. Trader Joe’s in Phoenix, Arizona early December 2021

 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.  You can read Part 1 herePart 2 here, and Part 3 below. 

Join our free news email list - cancel anytime


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

Part 3 of 3

After things got sorted out the sheriff gave me a ride to Wells River, Vermont where we transferred to a Vermont State Police cruiser that took us the rest of the way home.  My hitchhike was over.  I arrived home on Christmas Day at noon.  Even though the Staties had called ahead you should have seen the look on my mother’s face when my new brother and I walked through the front door, a day late but enriched forever.  “Must have been a passel of mistletoe hanging above that door.”  I cannot recall who got more kisses.  I suppose it don’t matter. 

The found child went unclaimed but not unloved.  The authorities never matched him to his natural parents.  I was too young to be given custody -- my parents were not.  We did not attend any parties that year, having a new baby in the house and all.  We sure did get a lot of gifts and visitors.  Bev showed up and took charge.  She wore a new mink that I got to hang up.  It was softer than rabbit fur. 

The pastor was cutest.  He just sat and smiled a whole hour at the child before we could get a cup of tea in his hand then pushed him out the door for nap time.  The phone rang.  My mother said it was a girl from college who spoke with a French accent and wanted to know if I like to go skiing with her in Stowe.  I said “oui” but no showed.  We had a big Christmas dinner.  The baby got mashed potatoes on his chin.  He smiled and smiled and smiled.  I felt good inside.  My mother cried.  I went to bed but got up for one more sip of eggnog.  In the quiet of the midnight hour, I looked out the kitchen window and saw the same lone star had followed us home.

A E □ ©

The hotel in Bethlehem is closed again.  Most of the year it is dark inside. First week of December it gets opened and cleaned (amazingly dust free) for the annual Christmas pageant play.  Some rich architect guy with a summer place on Monhegan gifted an endowment for an annual event.  The town school takes it to heart and stage an opulent reenactment of the A Christmas Story every year.  The performance leaves the crowd in joyful tears when they hold hands and sing the final carol.  Everyone lights a candle. 

Other than that, Bethlehem has spluttered back into oblivion.  I suppose at baked bean suppers and beer tents at county fairs whispers about the miracle hotel surface but like good Northern Kingdom folks they do not share with outta’ staters.  It stays at home.  We believe in ourselves. 

“Want some more beer nuts, I do?”  The sheriff is retired now.  He has a place on Lake Winnipesaukee.  I get a Christmas card from him every year.  He says he has remarkable luck catching fish and lake trout like his lures the best.  As a Salvation Army volunteer Santa at the mall, he collects very few coins, lots of paper money. 

Biker lives his life somewhere.  Seems he had a few outstanding warrants that he voluntarily brought to the sheriff’s attention.  I picture a ranch house outside Laramie or Billings.  I see a houseful of tricycles and wet bathing suits.  Biker now drives a station wagon.  The noisy hog is in the garage for good.  His wife is nice.  At night she traces her finger over his muscles, pauses on his tattoos and moves on.  Once a month a “suit” shows up and spends time in the kitchen over instant coffee then leaves.  At Christmas, Biker’s house draws crowds for miles.  The decorations are absolutely astounding.  His kids are very happy and proud.

After I graduated from college, I went back to Vermont to start a Christmas tree farm.  Cross signals kept me from Paris.  I did save her post cards.  My little brother is all grown up.  He took my bedroom and then he went to college too.  My parents bought him a car.  Mother thinks thumbing is unsafe.  My brother and I are close, but he knows I like it out here by myself.  The last letter my parents wrote said he had earned his MBA at Columbia and was living in New York right down the street from Grant’s Tomb.  He wants to be a low income, non-profit housing developer.  The world can always use another good carpenter.

A E □ ©

Now and again, I wish upon a star that I could hitchhike anew to find that good ol’ Christmas magic but I don’t push that aspiration too far.  Regaining intimacy is a privilege of youth as is thinking nowhere is somewhere. I promote that hesitation is not a detour so long as you eventually turn the page nonetheless concede that recovery changes the prism, alters what is best remembered rather than beholding twice.  Plus, grace is too precious to spoil with greed.   I know it ain’t gonna happen again.  I figured I got my shot.  I can only hope that someone else will get touched as I can use all the help I can get, spreading the word as it is kinda daunting being out here all alone with this big thing to share as we do not forget enrichment, the recognition of beauty. It is our hymn of purpose. 

But whatever, I am mostly content making life uncomplicated as possible.  I get a kick out of eggnog.  That’s enough for me.  I got it down to bare facts.  I have chosen to hibernate with the salt of the earth up a timeworn, depopulated valley.  It is like I have thrown off the burdens of the world to keep the important things close and the bad things at harm’s length.  Beyond that I do not have many strong beliefs or causes.  The big questions are still out there but I do not pay them much attention.  I have solved the big one.  Christmas is not just one day it is around all year. 

When skunk cabbage breaks damp earth in late spring I think about Christmas.  In July thunderstorms beneath the big apple tree in the nearby clearing I know I will not get thunderstruck if I think about Christmas.  And when that first scarlet maple leaf floats out of the sky and lands on my scuffed steel-toed work boot, I sharpen my wood saw and prune Christmas trees for market.  This year I will make more money than ever.  

There is nothing like the power generated by the anticipation of Christmas.  I am better for it, so I bring cheer into the hearts of lost children.  When I get my check from the Christmas tree vendor, I walk miles to the savings bank on the town square to stand in line for the only teller whom I can trust.  I make the bank manager nervous.  He tried to help me once, but when I did not respond to his numerous offers, a guard moved closer before the nice lady teller kindly took me by the hand to her window. 

A little tree money goes into the bank vault for a rainy day, a little more for the coffee cans buried in my back yard and the rest goes in an envelope for the state orphanage.  My only stipulation is that it funds their Christmas party.  Plenty of eggnog and beer nuts are a must.

A E □ ©

Astonishingly I hear a tread.  Someone steps through the torn screen.  I open my eyes.  Right beneath the mistletoe stands an attractive woman in a fur coat.  She is wearing earmuffs.  Her high boots are of Spanish leather and well made.  She is smiling.  I think I recognize her.  She whispers softly, “s’il vous plait passer les cacahuetes”.  Sounds like French to me.