I’m feeling a lot of pressure to put Christmas lights on our house: ‘tis the season, blah blah blah, and then there’s the Las Vegas Strip of festive lighting already in place on my neighbor’s house down the block.
I’m as festive as the next guy, but I have two impediments — fear of ladders and fear of 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.”
As far as my father was concerned, ladders and electricity, more than opposable thumbs or grooming standards, are what separate us from the lower forms of life. He brought this point home the first time I helped him put up Christmas lights on the first house our family ever owned.
I was 12 years old. My primary occupation was avoiding chores; my father’s hobby was to find ways to “build my character” and to show me “the satisfaction of a job well done.” So, when Dad found me hiding under my bed, I had to help him unsnarl a string of Christmas lights so that we could decorate the house.
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This was back in the days of heavy-duty bulbs and thick black wire, when one bad bulb blacked out the entire string. We worked in a slow-motion interpretive dance in our front yard to untangle the Gordian knot that was our strings of outdoor lights.
Once we had the lights untangled and stretched out on the lawn, we spent the next hour tracking down the bad bulbs. My father did this with methodically, one light after another, while I worked like a raven pecking garbage from the bed of a pickup truck.
Then we screwed together three 10-foot sections of galvanized pipe. We attached to pipe the lights in four strands and rigged a pair of guy wires. The Christmas lights we attached at the top of the pipe and midway. Dad climbed onto the roof and together we stood the pipe on end and secured the lights and wire to the house. When we were finished, I was not impressed. Neither was the rest of the family.
Dad remained unperturbed. “Let’s go for a drive tonight and look at all the lights.”
We drove around town and looked at the decorated homes. We stopped at the A&W for ice cream cones. When we cleared the rise by the cemetery on our way back home, glittering homes shined like ships anchored in a harbor. The most beautiful on that dark sagebrush sea was a two-story beauty in the middle of the darkness.
When Dad turned onto our street, I realized the two-story castle was our house. He hadn’t said a word all the way home, but when we got out of the car, I walked with him to the front yard where we stood looking up at the lights. He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a wink.