Image Source: Muppet Wiki
Of the four years we lived in Jacksonville, FL – from the summer of 1982 when I was nine through my 14th birthday, 09/12/1986 – the only year we did not return to Maine for Christmas vacation was 1985. That year I transferred my homesickness to a familiar stand-in, living my dreams of a white Maine Christmas through Frogtown Hollow, home of Emmet Otter.
Christmas in Florida, even northern Florida, was depressing for a Maine boy. It was chilly – maybe in the 40s or at most 30s – but nothing like the pure Maine winter cold I wanted. There was certainly no snow. And my only lasting impression of Jacksonville Christmas cheer is an aluminum tree with the most garish lights imaginable on the roof of Jax Liquors. Bing Crosby had not visited my neck of the woods.
But we did have HBO, and with that came salivation. Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas had been a favorite since it premiered in 1977. The Jim Henson special, adapted from the 1971 Russell and Lillian Hoban book, came along at exactly the right time over Christmas 1985. The Frogtown Hollow inhabited by Emmet and Ma Otter served as a virtual Maine Christmas at my grandparent’s farm as I sat in my Florida apartment.
The fire-red sunset as Emmet and Ma row home from running errands made me dream of the sunsets I knew from the living room window at the farm. The sound of the snowmobiles driven by Chuck and the River Bottom Boys echoed the sound of snowmobiles heading up our path and into our woods. And the brilliant full moon that shone over Ma, Emmet and his jug band as they walked home in defeat from the Waterville Talent Contest was the same moon that shone over my brother Eric and I as we played football in the snow or went tobogganing by the barn light.
I suppose I’ve always had this ability to adapt to circumstance and try to improve my lot, and it certainly served me well over Christmas vacation 1985. And Christmas Day wasn’t all bad that year, in spite of being in a small Florida apartment rather than a snowbound Maine farm. We got our first VCR that day (the remote control was attached to the console by a wire), and our first VHS movie: Gung Ho with Robert Mitchum. And I got my first blank VHS tape, with which I taped Celtics/Knicks at Madison Square Garden and, later that day, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas…