January 2011: Christmas Memories| Notes Archive


We really waited until Christmas night before it felt like winter in Acworth, but the next morning, the feast of St. Stephen greeted us with a deep covering of snow. The timing was pluperfect. We could light the fire, fill the tub as insurance against power failure, and hunker down. There was even a fridge full of Christmas leftovers.


We had a lovely Christmas with friends we have welcomed for several years. We are now relaxed and happy, knowing the routine and the cast of characters.

Every now and then, I sneak in a new recipe to test the waters, but God help me if I fool with the basics: the grand Roast Beast, Yorkshire pudding, Eno's creamy mashers, and a dessert one of our regulars has tagged "Divorce Cake".

It's an old story: Eno and I were neighbors, married to our first mates, back in Scarsdale in the 1960s, and traded dinners back and forth among a group of young marrieds. He was reviewing some of his favorite food from the past after we got together in the 1980s, and one time he described in detail a unique chocolate cake. Hmmmmm... I simply said: "My recipe!" His then wife had apparently asked for the recipe after a party at Schoemers, and she had been making it for him for years. Well. A few points for Kathy.

The wonderful cake had come to my file from my first mother-in-law, Dorothy Schoemer, who was an inspiration in my life. My mother was a fantastic cook, but a bit joyless in the kitchen, while Dorothy was a risk-taker and fun-seeker who thought nothing of popping a big chicken into the oven, trussed and stuffed, at 5 PM, to come out brown and crisp and delicious in time for her husband's train to pull into the Sleepy Hollow station, across the street, at 7. So, we would share a lovely day together, savoring every minute, andthen sit down to a beautiful, formal dinner at 7:30.

And, I mean formal: gleaming silver, linen napkins, seasonal centerpieces, wonderful wine and food. Anyway, the cake lives at Christmas and other festivities during the year, and Dorothy lives with it. Our dear ones are never far from us if we keep their spirits engaged.

Now we move into the "dark time" of the year.

I remember seeing a TV program years and years ago, a little segment called "Letters from Nebraska" which was a part of Sunday Morning on CBS (still our favorite show on the now complicated and irrational television). The reporter was a truly wonderful guy who always came across as the "real thing" in his overalls and braces. He obviously loved his roots, and it came through loud and clear. He once did a segment on the deep meaning of lights in the dark months, and it resonates with me every time we go out in the evening hours. No matter how hokey or brash the Christmas lights can be here in the rural hills of NH, they cheer us, like ports in a storm. They connect us to one another and make us warm to know that there are folks in that farmhouse, just a call away, looking back at our candles in the window, feeling reassured.

I don't know when the candles in the windows came into popularity, but the custom is ubiquitous up here. I keep a little light in the gable-end garret window all winter. That little 7 watt glow practically lights up the whole dooryard, "Light a candle in the darkness...", and tells our neighbors up and down Lynn Hill that we are here if they should need us.

Many, many really old people live alone, some in the houses they were born in, up here. They seem unafraid to keep on keeping on, and now and then, the Acworth Fire Company responds to a sad call, and we'll hear that so-and-so died the night before. Without the benefit of company at the end of life. Somehow, it touches me deeply, and seems as natural as going to sleep in one's own warm bed. As with my Dorothy's cake, they live on up here. We don't stop thinking about them, and, of course, the cemetery is right smack dab in the middle of Hill Rd, which we navigate constantly. "Our Town" indeed.

Acworth Meetinghouse is on the highest ground of any in NH, with sweeping views of the surrounding hillsides, and even of Mt. Monadnock, the mountain which is the talisman of our region. Not long after we arrived here, it was discovered that the steeple was in danger of tumbling down, and the townsfolk pulled together and managed to save it. Five years later, with the help a grant from our wonderful state, it was raised. The funds came from every corner of Acworth and beyond. An auction kicked off the challenge, and many, many other activities followed. Many pancake breakfasts, rummage sales, theatric reviews, musicals, Friday Night Suppers, and on and on added up. One wonders how such an important and iconic building could have been raised in such a small town, but that is another joyfully mystifying facet of old NH. Everything was worth the effort, and we are the beneficiaries.


I celebrated 70 years on January 23 --- a sobering milestone. 40 years in the antiques business. 30 years with Eno. (These events pale in the face of history of course, and that makes them all easier to digest. Living in an old town, surrounded by old buildings which are preserved, loved and still alive and in use, is reassuring.)

Our business constantly reminds us of the passage of time and the reality of life. We are simply borrowers of our houses and our things. In our other life in New York State, our house was sold and then demolished to make way for a McMansion. We are confident that such a thing will not happen in Acworth. These old places are just fine for the people who are born here and have stayed or for those of us who have landed here by choice, to set down roots in a place which in its simple beauty and uncomplicated daily life suits us and keeps us close to the heart of life.

I've included some birthday photos here -- including a photo of the dolls' tea table, a highlight of my little celebration.We had a tiny group of friends and family for brunch, with a few special touches, like the rag doll cookies made from a wonderful old cutter which I bought from Stephen and Douglas not long ago.

The snow is gloriously deep and beautiful, but our spirits are warm.