A few big band tunes played over the radio in the middle of the night, the scratches intact from their original vinyl incarnation. A harsh wind rattled the storm window outside my bedroom perch, but the carpet beneath my feet padded the room with warmth. On that winter’s night, I was awake with the anticipation of a weekend in Vermont. I was only thirteen or fourteen years old and didn’t have a lot of friends. (I still don’t, not close ones anyway. At that time, however, I didn’t see what a boon that was.
“He who has many friends has no friends.” ~ Aristotle
‘Little Green Apples’ played and then ‘Sentimental Journey’ came on. They whispered of grown-up evenings in dimly-lit clubs, where adults swizzled cocktails and spoke of important adult things. In my mind, such a scene was redolent of sophistication, shot through with gentlemen and ladies who kept elegant comportment. I hurried back under the covers and fell asleep in gleeful anticipation.
The next morning was bright but gray. I don’t remember specifics, only images: dirty snow, charcoal slush, and moon boots spattered with gray salty road spray. I was sitting in the back of a station wagon, and just along for the ride that my Mom was making to take my brother and his friend skiing. We were staying at some dinky two-story hotel, but when you’re thirteen every hotel is an adventure.
After dropping the boys off at the ski slope, my Mom and I would go shopping in Vermont. We stopped at cozy craft-filled stores, like the multi-floored Jelly Mill that stood on its hill looking remarkably like some real-life version of the Gummi Bear house. When I was little I sought out coziness like that – it was a comfort when the world turned cold. Little did I know the real emptiness and ache that comes from being alone. It wouldn’t be eased by the scent of pine and cinnamon or softened by a hand-embroidered pillow.
The scenes so decorously laid out in the flatteringly-lit gift shops didn’t translate to real warmth or safety. They gave the illusion of all of it, but even if you took a candle home with you, or a handful of old-fashioned candy sticks in root beer and watermelon flavors, you could never re-create the magic they seemed to hold. I was forever trying to do that, and forever failing.
I don’t know if there was a roaring fireplace in the restaurant where we ate dinner. I want to believe there was, but that may be a wishful recreation of a scene far less picaresque in reality. The memory is a wild thing, gaining in uncertainty over the years (just ask Brian Williams). Yet while the specifics may be inaccurate, the feeling – that notion of being on the cusp of all that is to come, particularly in the distant specter of spring – that remains true. It’s one of the only things our memories cannot eradicate or modify – the feeling – because if it meant enough to become a memory, it must have meant something.
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