Maine, eh? Are we Canadian yet? and a Christmas memory

Maine, eh?

I’ve always really liked Canada. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to either Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. or Quebec or the Maritimes and Newfoundland (which I know to pronounce noofin-LAN). They have one of the coolest, smartest people in the world as their P.M., while we’re about to get something akin to an experiment gone terribly wrong in a Petri dish that miraculously ballooned to human size and acquired a 5th grade vocabulary. Canada, until recently, had Muffets, (disc-shaped shredded wheat from Quaker) and still has terrific health care and educational systems and much more.

DSC_0120(my photo)

I’ve met a couple of people from way up north in Aroostook, and darned if they don’t betray a slight Canadian accent when they talk. See? We’re part of the way there already. And now you can get poutine (French fries, cheese and gravy – a Canadian staple) right next door to me at the Mussel Ridge Market. We’ll also get plenty of support from many Vermonters, where the “let’s be part of Canada” movement is a bit more robust than it is here.

As a new Maritime province, we’d share a long and rich tradition of fisheries and forestry products and quarrying. And we’d be part of a nation where provinces share their wealth with each other. Imagine if Connecticut was required to send hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Mississippi! No, it can’t happen here, but it does happen “up there.”

There’s quite a long and thoughtful piece from 2005, written by Jennifer Lunden, a young Canadian woman who moved to Maine and wondered, after Kerry lost to Bush in 2004, if secession were feasible. It’s worth a read. This was when Liberal Paul Martin was P.M. and before the disastrous rule of conservative Stephen Harper.

 ManeEh?(map/photo by Alexandr Trubetskoy: if Canada had 36 provinces…)

I’d really like to check in with our senator Dave Miramant, our rep John Spear, and Friendship rep Jeff Evangelos to get their take on this. I’m betting they know far more than i do about what may or may not be afoot. But it’s the weekend, and just before Christmas so it may have to wait.


I’ve posted this before but I still like it. This has a suburban feel to it – a bit askew of Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

The collective memory of a child’s Christmas

If you were born in the ’40s or ’50s, you remember how it was. Just about perfect, but with a few wrinkles. This is a boomer boy’s memory…

There was always lots of snow then, and you’d go out with your brother wearing your scratchy wool jacket and hole-y mittens and corduroy pants worn smooth, along with those leaking galoshes, and you’d build snow forts and an arsenal of snowballs all in your back yard which seemed to go on forever. It didn’t, of course, but you let it expand in your imagination and become enormous and always beckoning outward. You got cold and wet in the snow, your feet are sopping, and you caught a snowball in the face from your jerky brother, so it was time to go inside.

DSC_3218 copyOur house in Georgia, Christmas 2011. Our guest shack, far left.

The tree was up and decorated, and your father had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing on the Victrola in the living room while he’s pouring whiskey, and he starts to get emotional over “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” starting to tear up, except the record skips right there, always at “Hail, the Heav’n born Prince (SKIP) light and life to all he brings,” and he pulls himself together and goes back to making his drink. Drinks were everywhere, especially at the annual Christmas party where all their friends came with their furs and satiny dresses and bow ties and cigarettes and fragrant pipes, dozens and dozens of them smelling of stale tobacco and after shave, and all of them wanting to see you and your brothers and sisters, and tousle your hair or slap you on the back. Where are you at school? What grade are you in now? My heavens! See how you’ve grown! You wore an ill-fitting scratchy tweed jacket and a fat necktie you’d just learned to tie yourself, and it’s all too tight around your body as you struggle through the clouds of cigarette smoke and throngs of all these old people to get to the food table. And the beautiful Christmas music plays on.


You’re up early the next morning because there are lots of glasses half-filled with Mom’s special eggnog still in them, and everywhere the wreckage of glasses of unfinished wine and booze (which you don’t have a taste for yet), but oh that eggnog! When your parents finally creak downstairs holding the handrail, you’re one happy little dude – and not too dumb, either, because you’ve swigged some orange juice to kill the smell on your breath.

Christmas then had a forever smell. The tree smelled wonderful back then – it was balsam and radiated its perfume to lock in your memory forever – and it dripped heavily with tinsel and heirloom family ornaments – and now it’s Christmas Eve day which your mother declares every year is her favorite day of the year, as if it’s news. You start to get quivery and tingly about that new Meta-Jet bicycle (made in Japan!! Cool!) or that snare drum or that new guitar or the HeathKit make-your-own-radio thing. Maybe it was simpler than that: a crystal radio set, a water rocket, or anything having to do with space because you’ve grown up watching Tom Corbett and his Space Cadets or Captain Midnight and have sent in how many cereal boxtops with a quarter taped to each one all addressed to Battle Creek, Michigan to get that toy rocket or ray gun, or maybe it was a Lone Ranger cap gun or Davy Crockett coonskin cap. Maybe you asked your parents for a Jerry Mahoney dummy or Richie Ashburn bat or Willie Mays glove. You know from their secret smiles something big is coming, something you really want.


Family might come around Christmas Eve, kicking the snow from their boots at the door. Here’s your cigar-smoking uncle who’d crush you with a bear hug and scrape your face with his five o’clock beard, and your Aunt Peggy who always seems to be wearing an apron and looks and acts just like Jeff Miller’s mom on Lassie, the loving and caring and cookie-baking perfect Mom. The fire’s lit, the grownups sit and drink whiskey – it was Bellow’s Partners Choice back then, and they all seemed to be smoking L&Ms – and they chat idly about Sputnik or Ike’s heart attack or the incredibly exciting lineup of 1957 car models, all of them with rakish fins. Now Mom goes to check on the roast beef in the oven, one of those roasts that drips fat and goo into the pan that gets ladled up with the mashed potatoes and peas and the deeply rich and salty slices of beef. (This is the American meat-and-potatoes era. You don’t have pizza, spaghetti is from a Chef Boyardee can, seafood is frozen fishsticks). Now the Old Man sits at the piano and you’re dutifully standing up to gather round the piano and sing more carols even as your voice is changing and sputters between a croaky bass and strangled falsetto, and no, he won’t play “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

It’s late now, time to prepare a snack for Santa on the little bench in front of the fireplace. Cookies, milk, your older brother suggests pouring in a shot of whiskey, the Old Man scolds him, makes threats of hauling us all off to church for their Christmas Eve service. Santa, fading into myth, is still sacrosanct. You’re grateful that your father has kept his temper under control all night because you know all too well how it can be sometimes, with the whiskey.


You kneel at your bedside for your litany of God Blesses, not forgetting the dog, redouble your prayer for that two-tube stereo amplifier from Radio Shack, and roll into the long blur of sleep, waking up in the dark, it’s too early, just five a.m. Now six a.m.

There’s always an orange in the toe of the stocking to stretch it out and make it seem longer, heavier… and there are always lacy patterns of frost on the windows and snow outside and your breath blows out in clouds. Sometimes it seems to be mostly clothes under the tree, the stuff you need but don’t want, sometimes large heavy boxes spreading out from the tree and crowding the furniture. The new 3-speed bike is in the garage with a ribbon on it. The guitar is a kid’s toy guitar and it angers you. You give the Old Man a Sinatra album and he seems indifferent. Mom is ecstatic over your handmade potholders. The day slides leisurely through the morning toward Christmas dinner at noon with the oyster stew and the turkey and Bloody Marys and always the stale smoke, all of it sliding into memory, building into a collective memory – a monument, actually – of all Christmases past and present and future with the always smells and the always feelings held just beneath the skin, fragile and poignant and never simple.

Every year it will be like that.


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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.