I’m thinking about hanging Christmas lights on our house. Most of my neighbors have done so and their homes look festive and filled with joy. I want to appear festive and filled with joy, too, but there are two components to the enterprise that give me pause—ladders and electricity. If God had wanted me to reach beyond my grasp, he would have made me taller. As for electricity, allow me to share with you here the fine print on my most recent course in the School of Hard Knocks; and I quote, “Unplug the lamp.”

My father would find my reluctance surprising. As far as he was concerned, ladders and electricity, more than our opposable thumbs and our grooming standards, are what separate us from the lower forms of life. He brought this point home to me many years ago, when I helped him put up the Christmas lights for the first time on the first house our family ever owned. We lived in a little subdivision in a long valley on the outskirts of town. From the rim of the valley, the subdivision looked like a little square island in a sea of sagebrush.

I was 12 years old and resigned to yet another session of “building character” and “satisfaction of a job well done.” This was back in the days of heavy-duty bulbs and thick black wire, when one bad bulb blacked out the entire string. Dad and I worked in slow motion doing that strange dance people do when they try to untangle something together. Once we had the lights and stretched out on the lawn, we spent the next hour testing them and tracking down the bad bulbs.

With the strings of lights ready, he had me help him screw together three ten-foot sections of galvanized pipe. Then, we attached the lights in four strands to pipe and added a pair of guy wires. With Dad on the roof and me in the front yard, we stood the pipe on end and secured the lights and wire to the house and to stakes in the front yard. When we were finished, I was not impressed. Neither was the rest of the family.

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Dad remained unperturbed. “Let’s go for a drive around town tonight and look at all the lights,” he said. Thank goodness, I thought. At least we won’t be home if anybody drives by our house that night.

So, that evening we “oohed” and “aahed” around town at houses adorned like the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas strip. We stopped at the Chat-N-Chew for ice cream cones. When we cleared the rise on our way back home, I felt like we were leaving behind an enchanted landscape of glittering kingdoms to return to a dark, empty sea. In the middle of that dark sea stood a two-story castle of lights.

Dad hadn’t said a word all the way home, but when we got out of the car, I walked with him out to the street where we stood looking up at the strings of lights. “How about that?” he said with a wink and a smile.

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