John Harrigan: A package stirs memories of Christmases past

JOHN HARRIGAN December 22. 2012 7:34PM

The tracks in the snow told the story. I'd noticed them on my way out to load the wood furnace even before I noticed the plastic bag hanging from the side doorknob.

Someone had driven into the back barnyard, trudged over to the main barn and hung the bag on the door. I was in the kitchen all the while, working on stuff at the counter, and still had not noticed the vehicle going in and out.

Neither had the dog, Millie, who often barks at the mere passing of the snowplow. Gotta have a talk with that dog.

I heaved four or five three-foot sections of hardwood into the furnace's gaping maw, picked up the bag on the way back in and after trading outdoor boots and heavy frock for indoor garb, placed it on the kitchen counter.

It was from longtime friends and neighbors on Piper Hill, which I can see from parts of my South Hill farm. A nice card. A package of frozen mystery meat. A beautiful little red pailful of cookies and other treats.

Who does this kind of thing anymore? Well, actually a lot of people, everywhere.

It's one of the nicer among many nice things about Christmas. You go around calling on people you've known for a long time and even on people you've just met and have barely begun to know.

And if they don't seem to be home, you leave a little something in the shed or on the door.

I was planning to string up some lights and put candles in the windows that night, to me always the start of the Christmas season, but with that little bag on the doorknob, Christmas had already begun.

On the way back to the shed for some kindling for the fireplace, my eyes wandered to the east wall of the Fish and Game Room, our name for the big sort of second living room where most of the outdoor stuff resides, and the ancient pair of snowshoes that permanently hang above the big window.

Not that they couldn't be used because despite their great age, they could be. It's just that they've earned a rest.

One winter when I was 10 or so, my brother Pete and I were rummaging around in the barn attic and came upon an old pair of snowshoes. They were, my mother informed me, snowshoes her mother - my grandmother Ruth Dresser, who grew up in Berlin - had been given as a child. Could I use them? For sure.

So then began my love affair with snowshoes, which continues to this day. I spliced some cracks in the wood on those old shoes, did my best to repair and treat the rawhide webbing and proceeded to make tracks on hills and in swamps, reveling in a whole new way of exploring the winter world.

And then there came a Christmas morning when a strange-looking package with my name on it was leaning up against the window casing by the Christmas tree.

I knew what it was before I even got the wrapping ripped off - a glistening, brand-new pair of Maine snowshoes. Breakfast was barely over before I was off like a snowshoe rabbit, making tracks for hill and swamp.

And those old snowshoes, worn and a bit tired after many years of hard use?

I held one of the old shoes up against one of my new ones and compared the webbing. Exactly alike - the old Maine snowshoe pattern, made in Orono. These old shoes deserved a place of honor.

So I cleaned the old pair up, and redid the lettering of my grandmother's name on the crosspieces and hung them on the wall, a reminder of Christmases past, memories equally stirred by a bag on the back barn door.

John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at

John Harrigan

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