If you walk down the streets of our towns you will notice a great variety of architectural styles with most of it being 100 years or more old. In the eyes of the down-country tourist who comes from a metropolitan area, Vermont can appear both wonderful and weird. The built environment looks like a Currier & Ives print.
When I was in middle school in Readsboro, where my family is from, it was a bustling factory town. I delivered papers in town for the North Adams Transcript. Most houses in Readsboro are perched on the sides of the steep valley that rises up from the Deerfield River. Peddling papers, six days a week, with a 40-pound sack, up and down those hills was quite the chore for a 100-pound kid. The pay was good – can you imagine? – about $7.35 a week!
At Christmas time I walked to my customers in the dark and through the snow from about 3:30 to 5:30 pm. But it was magical. All the houses were lit up and Christmas tree lights twinkled through the windows.
To drop off the paper you went inside each house to whatever spot the occupants had told you to leave it. At Christmas, customers had a tendency to ply me with Christmas baked goods and ask questions about what I was doing or what I had asked to be placed under my tree. Some nights it seemed like I would never get home, but it all paid off. That last paper day before Christmas there were many envelopes stuffed with money waiting for me at each house. I was very happy about that as my customers bankrolled my own Christmas giving.
In those days there was no leash law in town so most nights my dog came with me. She was a German shepherd-boxer mix: calm, well-behaved, and very protective. We could look southward up on the steep mountain to a cliff high above the town, where a man-made Christmas tree was placed, lit up to be seen across the valley. On the other end of town, Christmas carols were broadcast over a loudspeaker for a few hours every night. Another house perched high on a hill had a giant, illuminated red star on it.
The snow, the darkness, the moon, the sights and sounds all made it pretty special. They still light that Christmas tree every year and it seems to take me back to my childhood visits while peddling papers. Most of the folks have died, but you can talk to almost anyone who was a kid in the 1950s or 1960s and we all pretty much remember it the same way.
Those folks who have kids often do the darnedest things at Christmastime. Living in the country offers us the opportunity to be a little foolish. I remember when my son was about 4 years old I decided to make Christmas Eve a little more special. After dark, when my son thought everyone was in bed, I put the extension ladder up on the porch roof. I climbed up there with a big brass bell that I had borrowed from the 1836 Country Store in Wilmington which was across the street from the house we owned. Yep, I jumped around up there and rang that bell, shouting “Ho! Ho! Ho!” for good measure. Needless to say, the theatrics were met with enthusiasm while my wife assured our son that he needed to stay in bed. Ah, Santa snacks – I think I ate most of the cookies, - the now warm milk went down the sink, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus cracked open a bottle of wine! Yes, in many respects Christmas is all about the kids.
We were taught at an early age that giving was better than receiving and as I was growing up I earned money and bought gifts for my parents, friends, and so on. Still, through my high school years I really did like getting stuff. These days I would rather give. A friend of mine and I built a farm set for my grandchildren. In my childhood you could find such things as a full set. These days you find fencing in one store, tractors in another store, and animals, barns, and whatever somewhere else. For three years I collected parts and pieces and then built the rest of what I thought a farm should have that I couldn’t find in any store. I had more fun doing that than possibly could be imagined. Now I just have to hope that I’m not too old-fashioned and that the grand-kids like playing with it as much as I enjoyed putting it all together!
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to one and all!