“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”

Jennifer McMahon, The Winter People

I love my snow globe. She, who suffers my childhood quirks, gave me my latest — one that features a bright red cardinal sitting on an icy branch surrounded by fluffy “snow.” It sits now on the dining room table, and whenever I pass by, I shake it. Recently, the bird asked me to please stop. I made that up.

My obsession started, like it did for many, with that famous final scene in Orson Welles’1941 film, “Citizen Kane,” when as Kane was dying, the snow globe he was holding slipped from his hands, crashed to the floor and broke, as Kane whispered the famous word “Rosebud.” That’s all I’m going to say, there may be Starbuckian millennials amongst you who have yet to see this great classic. I won’t disclose the secret.

I fell in love with snow globes, a toy of sorts that over the ages has become associated with Christmas, although the tiny figures inside, each floating in faux snow, can be anything. In Kane’s snow globe, it was a tiny sled. Don’t ask me anything more.

It seems that the now famous snow globe was an idea that Erwin Perzy came up with quite by accident in 1900 in Austria, when he was trying to create something quite different. He started by using semolina, stuff used for baby food, and poured it into a ball of water. It all floated around and settled. When he shook it again, voila, the snow globe was invented. The rest is history.

My first snow globe, had, of course, a tiny Santa and his reindeer. It belonged to my Uncle Bill Egan, a saloon keeper and gambler. When we visited him and Aunt Kate, I would take it and play with it. On one visit, I broke it. Uncle Bill didn’t mind, but I was stricken. My mother bought me my own that Christmas.

That one, I recall, had a nativity scene encased in a snow storm. I wasn’t as yet educated enough to know it probably didn’t snow in Bethlehem.

Before I grew out of my obsession, I had acquired quite a few globes, which, after I discovered girls, I gave away. Inside the real life globe of my life, it always snowed as we walked to midnight Mass, my father was still alive, struggling to put up the tree, my five brothers were kicking soccer balls in the snowy back yard, my sisters cooking and laughing, and the entire world was encased in a big snow globe of peace and joy.

Or so we thought.

Then on Dec. 7, as Christmas was approaching, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the big one that held the world, broke.

All my men, my heroes and angels, flowed out and vanished. All that we loved and kept inside our snow globes, all of our crystal dreams spilled out, went away, some never to return.

Women, that Christmas Eve, walked alone to church,clutching rosaries and photographs. The world, despite the twinkling tree lights, grew darker and colder.

This week as I walked through the Maine Mall, a little girl in a red coat trimmed with white fur walked with one hand in her father’s, the other held a snow globe with a tiny Santa inside.

I held my breath as she shook it to see the snow fall. Real snow globes are still made of glass, and I didn’t want to witness what to me in my fragile state of Christmas mind, might be traumatic. I was terrified that it would take me back to the time I broke Uncle Bill’s globe, and all the snow inside was revealed as fake, and when it dried in my hand it wasn’t snow at all.

Was that when my heart began to age?

I wanted to tell the little girl to hold tight to her globe and all of her dreams, because if it fell and broke, all of that snow would become semolina, or whatever they’re using now, and forget it was once snow. I don’t think I could live with that.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer and the author of “Will Write for Food,” a compilation of his columns.

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