The December months of my childhood shared one constant: a weekend at my Aunt Dolores’ log cabin in New Hampshire. Years ago the house was built by my great-grandfather, grandfather and other family members, and it has held its place in the family ever since, hosting many annual gatherings over the which all my relatives congregate in the cozy kitchen and living room. .
My parents, my sister and I usually drove with my grandmother. We would leave at 6 or 9 a.m., depending on my grandmother’s logic of how best to avoid traffic, and we would always stop at one of Connecticut’s two Cracker Barrels. It was a debate each time whether we would stop at the first Cracker Barrel on our way or wait until we were closer to the Massachusetts border, in which case my sister and I would be ravenous.
Orders varied, but my mother always, without fail, had a side of French fries for the table. We always eat before shopping. I’d go out with fruity gum or caramel that caught my eye, then sit in the rocking chairs outside with my sister until we had to go back to the car.
After Cracker Barrel, the car ride would become much more bearable. We were flying through the rest of Connecticut, crossing into Massachusetts and diving into Vermont for a few minutes before spotting the enthusiastic “WELCOME TO NEW HAMPSHIRE” sign. We would stretch our arms as far as we could, just to declare that we were the first to be in New Hampshire. Sometimes, if I knew there was no way I was going to be first in New Hampshire, I would eagerly announce that I was going to be last in Vermont.
It was a short drive from there, although my mother was worried about the dirt roads and weighing the likelihood of survival if we were to drive off the side of the road and crash the car into the stream. After a “treacherous” trip, we reached the sloping driveway, and after getting out of the car, I still felt like I was seeing the world in a new light. Everything was clearer in New Hampshire. It smelled like Christmas in New Hampshire. I wanted to live there one day.
Relatives were arriving throughout the evening, each carrying cookies and candies of some sort. My cousins and I would go for short hikes in the woods, where someone would usually try to convince everyone that unidentifiable traces of some creature had be those of a bear, or someone would notice a tree near the point of fall and try (in a dangerous way) to help it on its way.
At dinner time, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was almost always served. Given the number of people in the house (I have nine first cousins), it didn’t seem realistic to cook for so many people on a random December evening. So it was KFC, a brief intermission then round after round of dominoes. Christmas movies would play in the background while we went to bed.
The morning would be cereal, hoping for snow and finally on our way to Yankee Candle’s flagship store in Massachusetts, where my cousins and I would make it a sacred mission to inhale the scent of every last candle. We were generally quite successful. At the same time, my mom was working on choosing the next addition to our Christmas village decor and reminding everyone that the most authentic Santa was from Yankee Candle.
It was the tradition, year after year. I always call it an annual trip, although really, I don’t expect to come back this year. We haven’t been to New Hampshire in three years now, although we did make the trip to Yankee Candle two years ago. The tradition that I thought would continue into my adult life suddenly seemed to expire. One year my aunt was sick and we found a hotel. Then the pandemic. The plans that have always been in place in previous years have not been in place in 2021.
Even so, the air, the smell, everything about these trips, has an otherworldly feel that I’ve never found anywhere else.
Madelyn Kye is a sophomore from Long Island, NY, majoring in writing seminars and international studies. Her column deals with the people and things that came and went from her life, often through the lens of growing up.