Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Eve Luminaries

We lived on River Road South in Walpole N.H. Our cousins lived on Stagecoach Road in Westminster Vt. The two locations, as the crow flies, were a straight shot to each other. We could have walked to each other's houses almost, except for the half a dozen corn fields, woods, one small highway, a smaller road, oh yeah, and a River. :P
But, in the winter you could almost see their house through the leafless trees up on the mountain across the river. We had a tradition, Christmas Eve was Mom's night, she made a big dinner, with all the trimmings of Christmas, and the Plumleys came to our place and we played, exchanged gifts, giggled about secrets and made predictions about the next morning. Then the next morning, after the gift madness, and after Mom and Dad recovered with coffee, and after we were stuffed with Spice round cookies, we packed up our favorite new toys, and went to their house for Christmas Breakfast made by Uncle CP. Twas a fabulous tradition, and even with Grandpa visiting, or nasty weather, it never changed, every year the same, every year more and more fun.
One other thing never changed, the luminaries. Every year, at sunset on Christmas Eve, we would run to the windows and look out towards the Westminster side of the River, and you could see one by one, the little dits of light would start to light up making a long line through all the trees. Some years we were even able to pack up, and take a drive over there. Right down main street, (now main street Westminster was actually Rte5, it ran right through, with old town buildings on either side, with a couple churches, the post office, the Bates motel, ERM, the roadside inn, or whatever, and a smattering of giant, century old houses, untouched by time it seemed) So, all down the street, they had Luminaries, little paper bags with candles inside, starting at the first house, ending at the last house before the cornfields. Proper etiquette was to turn off your headlights, and drive slowly, to drink in all the atmosphere. The old houses decked to the max in classy greens and white lights.
I wish you all could remember Mom's candlelight Christmas Eve dinners, and Uncle CP's breakfast, and how Christmas felt back then, and of course, the Luminaries!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Where we grew up in New Hampshire, cornfields surrounded us nearly everywhere you looked. Our 200 year old house was smack-dab in the middle of a farming community, and though we weren’t exactly farm kids, we all got really familiar with the many moods and dispositions of cows, horses, sheep, dump trucks, tractors, and cornfields. We were polite trespassers in this gorgeously untouched area, our adventures tolerated by those who owned the dandelion fields, violet patches, perfect sledding hills, skating ponds, and cornfields around us.

To the west of our house lay a cornucopia of adventure. First there was a cow pasture, which was usually empty, but every so often housed a few cows or horses. Beyond that was a cornfield, which stretched out to what seemed like forever to a little girl. After the cornfield, there was a small field of alfalfa. And after that, the ground sloped down to the most forbidden shores of the Connecticut River. It was a test of bravery (and how much you wanted to push the parental boundaries) how far you would go. I only made it to the river once, and spent most of my playtime in the pasture. But oh, there were some great times in the cornfield.

I was usually the shortest of course, my three elder siblings towering over me in both age and wisdom (or so it seemed to me, from about age 5 to 10). It was easy to lose the annoying tag-along little sister amongst the cornstalks, but they put up with me nonetheless. We had epic adventures playing Marco Polo, nibbling on the forbidden veggies, and getting paper cut-esque wounds from flapping corn leaves. Once, when it was just my brother Matt and I, we trekked bravely through the maze together, he telling me we’d have a great surprise beyond it. I was about 7 or 8, and trusted him implicitly, following close behind him in the path he walked through the corn. We came out on the other side, to find the alfalfa thick, green, and smelling wonderful under the hot summer sunshine. It was about shoulder-high for me, the perfect height for us to stomp out our respective playhouses. And there we sat, on a bed of warm green leaves, watching clouds and corn leaves waving lazily over us, and probably getting bad sunburns.

The best time I ever had in that cornfield though was in the dead of winter, I think I was 8 years old. Every now and then, winter will thaw just enough to allow a rainfall or an icefall, and then freeze right back again, leaving a crust on the snow and roads that gives adults heartburn, and children glee. Of course, it’s never strong enough for you to actually walk on top of the snow...only this time, it was. On top of 16 inches of snow was a crust two inches thick of pure smooth frothy ICE. You almost could have strapped on your skates and skated on it. The huge hills left by the snowplow, which we’d dug snow forts into, were frozen solid and looked like Luke Skywalker’s house on Tattooine. And the cornfield, which had been nothing more than a wasteland of chopped stalks at that time of year, was now a vast smooth slippery glacier.

Sliding out on our boots, my sister Sara, Matt and I all slid into the field. There was one point where the gentle sloping of the field made a sort of slight valley, which wasn’t very obvious in the summertime, but on this frozen week it was perfect. Instead of a snowball fight, we sat on opposite hills and slid ice chunks across this giant smooth bowl at each other, dodging and laughing and falling over on our bums. At one point, I’m fairly certain my brother Matt used ME as a weapon, and slid me full force across the ice at my sister. Of course, this whole situation made our sledding hills in the field into veritable smooth death traps, from which there was no escape...but we’ll save that emotional trauma for another day.

I had an interesting experience, being in the middle. I have treasured memories of that house and those times with my older siblings, but my little brothers and I made new memories and new adventures here in the woods of Bomoseen, and I got to be the big sister using her littlest brother as a projectile for a few years. Still, I wish you could have known about the magic of those cornfields...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Raccoons in the moonlight.

There was this little house, on the shores of lake Zoar that was nestled behind large trees and a stone patio, and all manner of various plants and flowers. The house, was pretty much built INTO the cliff that went down to the lake. You would pull up to it, and it almost resembled a Hobbit hole, all you could see was the front door, and the large low window that looked out on the stone patio. The entire house was pretty much built around the giant fieldstone fireplace. It was the paper trash bag, LOL Nana always had us put our paper plates and napkins into the fireplace. We could sit on the Hearth and do puzzles, or watch cartoons. The kitchen was on the backside of this giant masterpiece, It was also two steps lower than the living room. Nana's Pantry was IN the fireplace LOL. To me, as a youngster, it was slightly amazing! But yes, on the back of the fireplace was a wooden door, that hid the pantry, where Nana usually hid to Cracker jacks!
We used to love to stand in the kitchen and lean on the rock wall that was warm from the fire blazing on the other side. I am sure we were NOT helpful in the tiny kitchen as She tried to cook meals for all of us, but she just laughed and told us about her plants. The back side of the house was nearly all glass, large floor length panes of glass in the dining room followed the curve of the deck outside. The desk started at ground level in the front of the house, then it was a walkway with a 5 foot high fence as a wall, you could see between the cracks that as you walked around to the back of the house, the ground was dropping dramatically underneath you, and by the time you got to the patio part, with the red chunky wood picnic table and lounge chairs, with sunshine yellow cushions, you were walking above the tree tops. Some trees still towered over us, and provided shade, but mostly we were in a secret hide above the trees, looking down onto the lake below.
On the side of the dining room you could walk back up two steps into the sun room. It had a wall of windows too, looking out onto the patio/deck area. With a radiator cleverly disguised by a quaint wooden sill, covered with More plants. She LOVES her plants. :) There was a stereo in the sun room, where we listened to Music machine and John Denver on 8 tracks. As we played with the toys she kept just for us. A large doll house, stuffed animals, and if we were really good, we got to play with the feathery Marionette birds.
From the sun room, you could go back into the living room, and hang over the railing that looked down into the dining room, THAT Nana did scold us for, well, when we climbed over it, or hung on it anyways. LOL
There was a dark hallway to the bathroom, that held two? Chest freezers. They held all manner of yummy treats, sherbets and ice cream sandwiches! The bathroom was a study in 60's design! I believe it was all in sea foam green. a pretty big room, but the cool part was that you had to step down to the toilet, it was cool :)
The deck off of the back of the house, was overlooking a VERY long drop to the rocky shore. and IF you could ever go down to ground level and look UP at the underside of the house, you would see how it perched on the edge, and MY GOODNESS, it was years before i could be comfortable on that deck, i was so petrified of heights!
Mom's step dad, Pop, had a large pair of powerful binoculars, he would let us use them to look out over the lake, to the bridge, and watch the traffic. We could see the Boy scouts at their camp, and the various boaters out on the lake.
The thing i remember the best, besides her brown dishes dipped with white glaze, and the glass bottle that played a tune and had a tiny dancing lady inside, were the raccoons. Nana loves animals, and aways had full birfeeders everywhere. A stone Birdbath out on the patio seconded as a lake for our tiny sail boats and fairy leaf boats, and the middle of the stone Patio, sat a black bucket, upside down, covered in black sunflower seeds. When you entered her house, there was a coat rack, boot mat, and two tubs, one of birdseed, one of sunflower seeds. We were sent out to fill the feeders, using a little plastic cup red or yellow, some of you remember that cup!
So, the sunflower seeds, what were they for? Well, at night, we would all line up at the low window in the living room, overlooking the patio, and wait. Sure enough, every night, they would come, the raccoons. BIG fat raccoons! They came to the black bucket table, and sit on their haunches and shell seeds and watch us watch them. They came one by one, until there were 3-4 even 5 ..... sometimes we left bread crusts, and more would come, They were so cute! They were huge, and friendly, and knew us as well as we knew them. I wonder if that one old fat raccoon sits and wonders where that lady went to? With her sunflower seeds and bread crusts. The birdfeeder is in Vermont now, still being used for many things other than a birdbath. The house was sold. Nana moved to Vermont, where she still grows plants, and loves animals.
That house has changed I'm sure, but the memories are as fresh as yesterday. The large rock on the corner of her road, where we would slide down on our bottoms, and wear out all our best pants. The trundle bed we thought was soo cool, and now sits in my Moms house. The pictures we drew, and pasted, and the paper dolls Nana made for Kate and I, all stored in our own smurf File folder, high on the shelf in the sun room. The pine cones, the leaves, the smell of the birdseed. The feel of the warm fireplace on a snowy day. The look on Nana's face as she watched us hunt for the Cracker jacks she hid. The smell of Sausage and peppers when we arrived after a 3 hour car ride. The tiny raccoon Eric gave her, that she kept on her spice rack, and of course, the Raccoons. The family of rolly polly "big ol' fat raccoons" as Dad called them. "walking around in their winter jammies"
Ah those days were fun! I wish you could have met the raccoons.