I don't cry on chairlifts -- not usually, anyway -- but i did on sunday.
I had spent the day before among red velvet seats and gingerbread houses that filled the local theater as part of a community competition. There was Hartshorn's farm, looking both accurate and edible. The congregational church was there too, mighty tasty. And there was even a licorice-roped Single Chair of Mad River Glen, frosted with coconut and adorned with loaded Patrol sleds. Going further was a pristine recreation of Les Deux Magots, a spirited Fenway Park, and a pretty decent recreation of the Empire State Building.
A few had ribbons on them already. One winner was the beaver pond, the creation of elementary school sculptors Sophie and Emma, complete with a few furry little dudes and a melted Lifesaver lake full of candy fish.
Another winner was a four-poster treehouse that perked up above a lawn made of green Rice Krispies treasts. "Michael's Treehouse," read the label on the front of the gingerbread creation, spelled out in hard candy and confectioners sugar.
The Treehouse was a team effort, created by a batch of local adults and kids from Prickly Mountain, and their meticulous construction looked too good to eat, even for a sugar hound like me.
Although many of the gingerbread houses were available to bid on by silent auction, the Treehouse was not. So, I took the kids over and bid on Smurfland instead.
By Sunday, the gingerbread competition was a fond memory ...a Lake Wobegon kind of artistic explosion that can only happen in a place where the majority of the population simply hates their televisions. A touch of true local color, it became a central topic of chairlift conversations for me as I skied the day away.
Late in the afternoon, as a snow squall exploded, I hitched a chair with my friend Susan. Once again, I used gingerbread as a starter. But this time, I learned something.
Turns out that like the other gingerbread houses, the treehouse was a true replica of a genuine place. In this case, the treehouse was a living memorial for Michael, a neighbor, friend and father who was dying of cancer not that far away from where we were skiing. It was built by his closest friends, and will stand forever as a remembrance.
The squall cranked up a notch after I lost Susan, whirling itself into a white tornado of sorts and chasing away what little crowds there still were on a weekend day in December. I skied the rest of the day solo, riding high speed quads by myself and minesweeping the edges of a few worthy treelines. And I thought through it all.
I thought about my role as a neighbor and father. And I thought about my role as a cancer survivor, skiing almost three years to the day after my own date with intensive care.
What could I do, right then and there, for Michael? Should I head home and light a candle? Would a prayer help? Should I be in a vigil somewhere?
Eventually, the answer was crystal clear. I did what I would've wanted, had I been the one in bed and Michael been here on the hill. I breathed deeply of mountain air, and I skied until the last chair.
Michael died last night. He will be missed.