Thanksgiving has ended, which typically marks that wonderful time of year when I begin decorating for Christmas.
Not inside, mind you, until Dec. 1 at the earliest, because I can only stand so much of that jolly-ness.
I’ve been conditioned since childhood to be wary of lights. It was the same, every year in my house. As soon as my dear mother could pack up her pilgrim candles, and with the very best middle class intentions, she’d whip up some cider in a mug and as the sun set she’d drag my father outside.
I’d dance and flitter about as he’d begrudgingly drag various strands behind him, his Camel cigarette balanced between his lips and the smoke still hanging above his ‘dad chair’ where he longed to still be. Exactly how festive could the azalea and hibiscus hedges be in Florida, I don’t know, but by God, my mother was going to give it her all.
She’d position herself in front of the house squaring up the image with her hands in a little square shape looking like some old Hollywood director. Think Cecil B. Demented, belting out choreography and blocking, each tiny light emerging from delicate leaves like a fairy being born from each bloom. Like morning dew and angel’s tears merged together and shone brightly to beckon a chorus of seraphims and cherubs; their peels of giggles in delight giving each bulb its twinkling power.
God forbid the old 80’s green Walmart tag was still visible. Why that offense itself would cause the heavens to crumble.
Each dead light seemingly symbolized an angel-fairy’s death. No sooner you’d kick a floppy eared puppy than would tolerate a plug showing.
Now, Dad, with his dangling cigarette and foul language escaping under his breath just didn’t understand the whole light, mission from God bit and really just wanted to toss a strand up on the nearest thing that stood still and continue watching Dune for the millionth time. Every single year this would happen and inevitably deteriorate sometime near my bedtime.
Every year these two knuckleheads who had the audacity to breed and gluttony for punishment to marry and the bad taste to decorate would come very close to strangling one another with a light strand. Perhaps my memory is harsh; there were no threats of violence but I do swear, each strand brought the looming threats of divorce.
As a girl, I’d imagine being in a courtroom and the judge asking as both parents looked on, why oh why did these two want a divorce?
“Lights, your honor. Christmas lights.”
My grandfather, Grampy, didn’t fare much better as a man. Nannie was a perfectionist with Christmas decor herself, but unlike my dad, my Grampy did strive for the same perfect light placement. No doubt Nannie was queen nag herself and he likely learned long ago to just heed her admonitions. That is until he developed dementia from a stroke in his golden years.
That Christmas we pulled the old boxes he carefully labeled to decorate and the old tin sewing box of spare lights and fuses.
Something was wrong! Each strand had been patched bizarrely with electrical tape. In a workshop drawer were hundreds of cutoff plugs and switches and each strand had been spliced like Frankenstein’s idea of the holidays.
My point being, in my earliest understanding, Christmas lights drove couples to divorce and in the throws of a mental health crisis, held the power to make one descend into madness.
You could assume I’m leery of decorating this year.
Year before last I bought distinct outside lights that were both net and icicles that were both amber and twinkling blue that tastefully mimicked snow or what a neurotic Southern woman envisions as snow. I nearly did turn into my mother going out and directing where each twinkling bush should be and obsessively hiding each plug under some cursed camelia leaf. I took hundreds of pictures, posted them nonstop and joined the ranks of middle class mothers everywhere who strive, all others be damned, into a picture perfect holiday. I even put my family in color coordinated sweaters and matched my holiday red lipstick to the holly berry headband I wore. The circle was complete.
But like so many suburban dreams, one eventually wakes up irritated and wanting, and the dream cracks, dry and arid.
Last year I didn’t decorate outside. My father’s daughter at last.
So in the great spirit of making all things balanced, I commence to outside decorating this year. I’ve discovered horror. Exactly each net only works in a perfect half. Half beautifully sparkling, half ugly and dead. It took this blonde one hour of cussing and using manicure scissors to open and replace each fuse. Success euded me once more. So I sat on the sofa eyeballing each light as both dogs, curious, stepped in the tangled mess.
Desperate and nearing a full on hissy fit I slung the net on my shoulder and drove to Lowes. I found the nearest fellow in a vest and begged, pleaded for help. I was nearly in tears, exasperated and driven mad by these tormentors. He was Irish, kind, and suggested I get to drinking right away. It was not the answer I wanted but the answer I needed.
I poured a drink and began carefully unplugging and replacing each bulb. No success. I had finished my drink and by that point, finished caring.
Today I will lug each half broken, half working tangled mass outside, and fight with them like a spastic madman fighting a hallucination of spiders crawling on his skin. The poor addled neighbor whose brains were scrambled in a juke joint brawl, who lives off Mad Dog 20/20, will pass by and hang his head in pity.
The Yankee transplant sitting in golf cart as wife drives him about for fresh air, because his Parkinson’s is getting worse will look and vaguely recognize my jerky jangling arms flailing in a bush and reckon I too share his symptom.
Old Drunky with the yellow jaundiced eyes will offer me a sip to calm my nerves. Children on bikes will look on in horror imagining I’m being taken down by some mythical Kraken of the Sargasso Sea, each tentacle pulling me down to my watery tomb depths below. These lights are my Moby Dick, my sparking white whale, and I’m somewhere between the yin and yang of my parents; half not caring, half on some mission from God…and you can call me Katie.
I’m just hoping above all insurmountable odds this Christmas will be merry and bright.