Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 17, 2022
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COURTESY OF MADELYN KYE

Kye looks back at her family’s December tradition of gathering at her aunt’s log cabin.

The Decembers of my childhood shared one constant: a weekend trip to my aunt Dolores’ log cabin in New Hampshire. Years ago, the house was built by my great-grandfather, grandfather and other relatives of mine, and it has maintained its place in the family ever since, hosting many annual gatherings during which all of my relatives pack into the cozy kitchen and living room. 

My parents, sister and I would typically drive up with my grandmother. We would leave either at 6 or 9 a.m., as per my grandmother’s logic on how to best avoid traffic, and we would always stop at one of the two Cracker Barrels in Connecticut. It was a debate each time whether we would stop at the first Cracker Barrel on our path or wait until we were closer to the Massachusetts border, at which point my sister and I would be ravenous. 

Orders varied, but my mom always, without fail, got a side of fried apples for the table. We always ate before we shopped. I would walk out with fruity gum or caramel that had caught my eye, then sit in the rocking chairs outside with my sister until we were forced to return to the car. 

After Cracker Barrel, the car ride would become much more bearable. We would fly through the rest of Connecticut, breeze through Massachusetts and dip into Vermont for mere minutes before spotting the enthusiastic “WELCOME TO NEW HAMPSHIRE'' sign. We would extend our arms as far as we could, just to declare that we were the first to be in New Hampshire. Sometimes, if I knew that there was no chance I could be first in New Hampshire, I would eagerly announce that I was the last one in Vermont.

It was a short trip from there, though my mom would fret over the dirt roads and assess the probability of survival if we were to veer off the side of the road and crash the car into the creek. After a “treacherous” journey, we would reach the sloping driveway, and after stepping out of the car, I always felt I saw the world in a new light. Everything was sharper in New Hampshire. It smelled like Christmas in New Hampshire. I wanted to live there someday. 

Relatives would arrive throughout the evening, each bearing cookies and delicacies of some kind. My cousins and I would go for short hikes in the woods, where someone would typically try to convince everyone else that unidentifiable tracks of a critter had to be those of a bear, or someone would notice a tree near the point of falling and (unsafely) attempt to help it on its way. 

When it came time for dinner, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was almost always served. Considering the volume of people in the house (I have nine first cousins), it didn’t seem realistic to cook for that many on a random December evening. So it was KFC, a brief intermission and then round after round of dominoes. Christmas movies would be streamed as background music as we trickled off to bed.

The morning would be one of cereal, hoping for snow and eventually driving off to the Yankee Candle flagship store in Massachusetts, where my cousins and I would make it our sacred mission to inhale the scent of every last candle. We were typically fairly successful. At the same time, my mom would be working on choosing the next addition to our Christmas village decor and reminding everyone that the most authentic Santa Claus was the one at Yankee Candle. 

This was tradition, year after year. I still call it an annual trip, though really, I don’t expect to return this year. We haven’t been to New Hampshire in three years now, though we did make the trip to Yankee Candle two years back. The tradition that I thought would continue well into my adult life abruptly seemed to expire. One year my aunt was sick and we got a hotel. Then the pandemic. The plans that always fell into place in the years prior failed to do so in 2021.

Even so, the air, the scent, everything about those trips, has a sense of otherworldliness I’ve never found anywhere else.

Madelyn Kye is a sophomore from Long Island, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars and International Studies. Her column discusses people and things that have entered and exited her life, often through the lens of growing up.

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