This is a picture of me (playing with the firetruck), my Sister and my Grandmother at her house in Randolph, Maine one Christmas in the early 70’s. I love seeing my sister as a little kid, happily playing with her toys, and my Grandmother – we called her Grammie Howe – watching over us. There are several other things I like about this picture:

  • The silver tinsel Christmas tree which Grammie used every year.
  • Grammie’s TV set. We watched Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers in the mornings and Walter Cronkite in the evenings on that big TV.
  • The swan on top of the TV. It was made of tinsel, felt and a type of florist’s styrofoam – at least as I remember it.

Each Christmas we’d make the trip from South Carolina to Maine to see Grammie.

Like all great roadtrips, this one always started early in the morning.

At the breakfast table I’d be so excited I was nauseous. We’d pack everything into our big dull gray station wagon, a 1968 Plymouth Suburban that I suspect could crush a  Hummer like tin foil. My parents would put the back seat down, and push and pull a queen sized foam mattress into the back area of the station wagon. The mattress always had this same bright yellow fitted sheet on it for some reason. All day long, as we roared north on the interstate, my sister and I would crawl around and play with our toys on that mattress. There would be 800 pounds or so of luggage stashed in the back.

My Dad kept a small spiral notebook in the car, and used the odometer to track the mileage between towns. Long before Google Maps was available, he knew how many miles we’d travel and how long it would take. If I remember correctly he had the trip pegged at 1150 miles.

We’d play the license plate game. My Dad would help us keep a look out for the unusual license plate. “Look Ralph! Montana!”. Sometimes I’d urge him to drive faster so we could catch up to an odd colored plate we hadn’t seen before.

The trip north had several highlights:

  • The buffalo ranch in Virginia. Somewhere on Interstate 81 we’d see a herd of buffalo on a hillside to the right of the highway. It was apparently a ranch where buffalo and “beefalo” were raised.
  • Mountain views from 81 in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The elevation there was maybe 2-3000 feet so when it was clear we got some nice panoramic views.
  • Then the excitement doubled as we started seeing the first patches of snow along the side of the road. As we progressed northward the snow became more consistent and deep.

Late in the night, we’d pull into my Grammie Howe’s icy driveway in Randolph, Maine. I remember looking up from inside the back of the station wagon, and waving to Grammie in her big picture window on the second floor, standing next to her sparkling silver tinsel Christmas tree, flashing with lights. Oh we couldn’t wait to get out of the car, slip and slide to the front door, and give her a big hug!

From that moment the memories run in so many wonderful directions.

Tramping up the steps in our snow boots. The specific smell of Grammie’s house.

Sitting in the Grammie’s old wicker rocking chair with the red corduroy cushions, with one of the Reader’s Digests from her large collection – she’d been a subscriber for years. I ways liked reading the “Laughter, The Best Medicine” and “Humor in Uniform” sections.

Lying with my ear on the blue cloth couch in her living room tapping my fingertips on the couch and hearing the funny way the taps reverberated off the springs inside the couch. To my young ears these taps sounded to me like the drumbeats of a distant village. I would start tapping with my other hand – the answering drums from another village.

Eating grapefruit at breakfast. At Grammie’s house we were allowed to put sugar on the grapefruit. Mmmm! Talk about a good way to start the day!

Sitting somewhere thumbing through Grammie’s bird guides – Roger Tory Peterson and others – looking up my favorite birds and marveling at the precise illustrations in them.

Watching Captain Kangaroo, Emergency, Mr. Rogers, and then after dinner each night Walter Cronkite. “And thats the way it is, December 24th 1975, I’m Walter Cronkite for the CBS Evening News, Goodnight.” And my Dad would often crack, “And that’s the way we want you to think it is, I’m Walter Concrete, goodnight!”

Going sledding with Dad and Susan on our bright orange plastic sled. Sometimes we went in Grammie’s backyard, sometimes we went to the big hill in the school yard.

Sleeping in the sagging goosefeather mattress next to the bedroom window. I remember looking out that window at night, down through the branches of a craggy oak, at the icy road under the peculiar yellow glare of the streetlights there. One frosty night a drunk came staggering slowly up the street singing, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He’d sing a little, then play a few notes on his harmonica.

Playing with the set of trucks or other toys I’d get for Christmas. Watching the snowfall. Going to visit the relatives, The red and black wide stripe plaid hats and jackets. Being bundled up and going outside to make a snowman.

According to Google Maps, the place we knew as Grammie’s house is still there in Randolph, and still the same color as I recall. The large tree between the house and the road is still there, and the large back yard is still unchanged, except it appears they’ve cut down the old willow tree that we pitched our family tent under one summer.

Note: As of October 2013, Google Maps images show the house has been painted and the  large oak tree in the front has been cut down.