What’s your warmest hot apple cider winter memory?

Here’s one of mine: I was young. I don’t remember how young, exactly, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of seven or eight. That would make my sister five or six. My mom bundled us up and my dad drove us a couple of towns over. There, at its heart, was a small lake. Really, it was more of a large pond, but I think calling it a pond would have given the townspeople an inferiority complex.

Anyway, this lake-pond and the old church and library that sat on its banks were, unappreciated by me as such at the time, the quintessential scene from a small town in the northeast. In the summer, we’d sit on a bench and feed stale Wonder Bread to the ducks, who harbored no suspicions about anyone who was willing to feed them.

This was our first visit in the winter. We sat on the same bench, and my dad swapped our boots for skates, white for my sister and black for me. And then he laced up his own. I’d never seen my dad skate to this point, but his pair was broken in like this was something he did all the time.

We waddled over a few feet to the edge of the frozen lake-pond and stood there for a moment looking out over the ice. Maybe it was the ice or our proximity to it, but the lake-pond suddenly seemed to extend for miles in every direction.

My dad stepped out onto the ice first and then turned and opened his arms. I was less concerned with figuring out how to skate than I was with the legality of what we were doing. There were other skaters scattered across the ice behind my dad, but I stood there worrying that the cops were going to come and haul us all off. I was a worrier in my adolescence.

Eventually, I ventured out. I’d been to a bunch of rollerskating parties by that point in my life, but this was nothing like rollerskating. My dad tried to offer some support, but he was grounded, for the most part, by my sister. I fell a lot that afternoon. It’s hard to say how much, but, thinking back on it, the part of the memory that comes to me the strongest is the scent of the frozen lake-pond water—earthy, dirty, familiar. I spent most of my time lying on the ice, my nose pressed up against it. Even once I was back on my feet, the smell saturated my jeans. It followed me everywhere.

When we’d had our fill, my dad sat us back on the bench, draped us in an itchy wool blanket, and walked up a short set of steps to the library parking lot, where there was a humble stand selling hot apple cider. He handed us each a steaming paper cup of it and then took a seat back beside us. We sat there giggling at ourselves and sipping our cider.

I couldn’t have appreciated how fleeting that moment was. So much has happened and changed since then, and yet, a passing whiff from a hot apple cider bar pulls me right back to that bench. I’m seven (or eight), my jeans smell like the frozen lake-pond, and I’m staring up at my dad’s smiling face.

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