We live in a picture postcard New England town, a town with a wonderful history. It was the summer retreat of famed nineteenth century preacher Phillips Brooks, the rector of Boston’s Trinity Church. Brooks wrote the words to “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” probably his widest claim to renown. The American tune, called “St. Louis,” was composed by Brooks’ organist at his summer parish, St. Paul’s, the church we now attend. Brooks founded, among other things, the Brooks School, which occupies a picturesque peninsula of land on Lake Cochickewick, just over the hill from our house.
(“Cochickewick,” “Cotuit,” “Scituate,” and other local names probably all derive from an Ogunquit Indian word meaning “water.” “What’s that?” early settlers probably asked various Indians, pointing at this or that river or stream or lake. The various Indians undoubtedly replied with a word full of glottals, thinking, “Stupid white man. Water. What does he think it is?”)
Across the street from our house lies an old farm, called Edgewood, which includes picturesque barns, houses, outbuildings, and pastures. I’m taking photographs in a variety of lights and seasons of the biggest barn, which I’ll assemble into a four-part framed display; it’ll look wonderful on the living room wall.
The other weekend, we got more than 20 inches of snow, two different storms (Left! Right!) hitting us in two days, with high winds accompanying. We were stuck indoors with two rambunctious boys, and did our best to keep them amused and fed. I continued my season-long project of painting the interior of the house, bit by bit. Sally put up Christmas decorations. We made lefse, the labor-intensive Norwegian potato flatbread, which everybody loves. I ended up doing all the work, but hey.
By Monday we, and the surrounding area, had been mostly plowed out. Sally had been given tickets to the opening concert of the Boston Pops season, so I drove in to pick her up at work on Tuesday night, and we sat at a little cocktail table in the orchestra area of Symphony Hall, listening to the Pops and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus performing Christmas music, including plenty of references to and reverence for the birth of the Christ Child — mercifully, no politically correct censorship in this Boston institution. The Symphony Hall auditorium embraced us with its glorious warm acoustics and festive décor. Santa Claus came. It was wonderful.
Keith Lockhart, the conductor (“the hottest man in Boston,” as Sally admiringly calls him), complimented the musicians on their dedication. Many of them, he said, had abandoned their cars in traffic jams or snow banks and made their way on foot to the concert hall. It had taken us an hour and a quarter to drive the five miles from the North Station area to Symphony Hall, with all the streets narrowed by plowed-up snowbanks, and no parking anywhere.
Now the true character of winter reveals itself. Winter is filthy.
Today, I took my little boy Joe to Dunkin Donuts. It has begun to rain, and promises to get to 50 degrees or higher today. The parking lot was coated with greasy, sandy, salty glop. When I put Joe back into the car after we had eaten, big black drops dripped off his shoes onto the floor mats. In vain do you try to tell a little boy to keep his feet clean.
We have equipped the garage with a plastic bench from Rubbermade, where we’ll try our best to keep sloppy boots, wet mittens, soggy jackets, soaked socks, and the like. (Traditional New England houses have a “mud room,” aptly named, for this purpose. Our house is only 10 years old. We don’t have a mud room.) We will not entirely succeed. We will get salt, grit, and muddy snowmelt on our floors and our rugs.
Our cars will be salt-rimmed, no matter how many times we run them through the carwash. We will get soaked to the ankles in greasy water trying to cross streets. The municipal plows will pile up ever-higher banks of combined snow, oil, salt, and sand, impenetrably hard and impossible to remove. They will knock over post-mounted rural mailboxes. The garbage men will spill trash as they try to navigate the streets. Black gloomy clouds will sock us in. We will eat dinner in the dark, and get up in the dark.
Through all the accumulation of muck and mire, we will continue to travel, by car, by air, and by foot. We will celebrate Christmas, joyously. We will shop and cook and go on, much as before. And along about March, we’ll find ourselves glowering at the Weather Channel, and we will have had enough, more than enough, for another year.
And we’ll remember the year we got an 18-inch blizzard on April Fool’s Day. Screw Currier & Ives.
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