A few winters ago, a childhood friend from Connecticut contacted me on Facebook. I had gone to elementary school with him and we had lost touch when my family moved to Florida just before I started eighth grade. He wrote how happy he was that I loved Vermont, but surprised that my wife and I had settled here soon after college. After all, he said, when we were boys he had presumed that I hated winter.
He recalled a day when we were playing ice hockey on the nearby pond and I was dressed like the Michelin Man. He said it was a wonder I could skate. He remembered that when we went sledding at the golf course, I was focused only on the hot chocolate we’d have when we were done.
I, in turn, reminded him of two things: I was dressed like the Michelin Man because even at 10 I had a spare tire big enough for a pickup truck. And I was probably talking so much about the hot chocolate because as a kid I ate like a sumo wrestler. Remember, I wrote back, my mother had to buy me all my pants at a store called Greenberg’s Husky Boys Shop — and still she had to cuff the pants up to my knees. I was the William Howard Taft of fifth-graders.
Well, Valentine’s Day is now behind us. As is the Super Bowl. Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers report for spring training this week. And the spring equinox is less than five weeks away.
In other words, winter — even here in Vermont — is starting to fray around the edges. I know I sound like a crazy person since the temperature is not going to top zero degrees today here in Lincoln. (That’s not hyperbole. We’re not supposed to see positive numbers again until Monday.) But the sun no longer seems to set around lunchtime. Vermont now has Town Meeting Day to look forward to, as well as sugaring season. Maple’s meteorological cousin, mud season, is only weeks away. Soon there will be those remarkable crocuses popping up on our lawns. Most, of course, have a death wish: no sooner will they bloom, than they will be squashed by 11 feet of snow
The reality is, however, I’ve never minded winter. Looking back, all the blubber I carried around as a kid probably made winter easier for me to endure than my more svelte friends. I’m always a little fascinated when we recall how much harder or colder or longer winter was when we were kids. Clearly global climate change has had an enormous effect. Make no mistake: The weather is different now than it was in the 1960s.
But Starksboro’s Kurt Kling also once put our childhood memories of winter in perspective for me with the grace of a poet. He said years earlier he had been walking through the snow-covered woods with his son, then a little boy, and the snow was practically up to the lad’s thighs. For Kurt, it seemed barely to top his boots. “But when you’re a little kid,” Kurt said, “the snow is always deep like that. And that’s how we remember what winter was like.”
Certainly that’s how I recall the snow from my childhood: it was deep, whether I was fat or skinny or somewhere in between.
There’s still a lot of winter ahead, especially here in New England. One of the worst storms of my youth occurred in the second week in April, when I was on a bus trying to return to college in western Massachusetts from a suburb of New York City. The bus driver gave up in Hartford, Connecticut. Just stayed at the bus station. My roommate, Kevin Kelly, had grown up in western Massachusetts and was unfazed by the blizzard. He drove to Hartford that night in his pickup truck and rescued me.
So maybe winter is a big reason why I love Vermont so much. I had to go north to find the cold and snow to remind me of my boyhood.
But spring is coming, despite what the temperature is telling us today. These last icy blasts from the north? My sense is they’re winter’s last gasp.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on February 15, 2015. Chris’s most recent novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives in paperback in May.)