Soliloquy 37

  ~Christmas Lights~

The wanton display of electrified decorations about the exterior of the house and from the windows is the epitome of a Christmas setting in suburbia. I have many neighbours who have spun cocoons of coloured lights about their homes and the trees in their yard, but one house nearby has outdone all the rest.

Turn a distant corner and this one house far down the street explodes from the darkness like a beacon. It overpowers its lesser-decorated neighbours and draws the curious closer.

Every bush on this singular property is a nebula of red bulbs. The trunks of trees are wrapped in green bulbs while their crowns are blossoming red and white galaxies. The lawn is densely packed with translucent figurines set aglow by electricity, every trite cliché of Christmas. Among the assortment are a plastic, Victorian, English couple. He is wearing a blue overcoat while she wears red with white fur trim. They are posed to look as if they are singing carols by an imitation gaslight street lamp. Elsewhere a chorus of white-robed carolers forms a circle around a Christmas tree. The eye is constantly searching, trying to take it all in and not miss a thing. With effort you can discover among the dozen snowmen in top hats distributed evenly throughout, the one Winnie-the-Pooh standing over a honey pot decorated with a bow.

At the very center of the front lawn is the ubiquitous crèche with radiant Holy Family, Magi, and an assortment of peripheral characters. Special focus is brought to this famous stable by a flowing wave of lights traveling along wires from a single star mounted at the apex of the roof of the house.

There is more. On the side of the house is a choo-choo train made entirely of bulbs on a board of wood, blinking lights creating the illusions of turning wheels and smoke puffing from the stack. Across the three cars of the train it reads "Merry Christmas."  Floating above the front yard on invisible wires is Santa Claus in his sleigh, pulled by "only" four reindeer with the lead deer having a red nose. At the top of the driveway is a make-believe brick fireplace with a flickering fire crafted of flashing bulbs. On the roof above a large sign reads "Happy Holidays."  On the chimney a ringing bell is limned in lights.

The perimeter of the property is fenced in with plastic red posts molded to appear like candles over two feet high. Each is crowned by a yellow plastic flame lit from inside. Fake ivy vines with white bulbs are strung from candle to candle. At the driveway, coloured lights form an archway and a sign is posted asking "Santa Please Stop Here."

Every year as Christmas approaches, my wife and I seek out this extravagantly decked house. It was a challenge for us to try and guess what if anything was new. One year a box went up at the foot of the driveway. It asked for donations to help pay for the electric bill.

This one home is so excessively decorated as to be something of a joke for me and the people I know. On several occasions, I have taken visitors for a short drive to pass by the house and hear them exclaim "how gauche" or "outlandish" or "such garishness."  We always wondered as to their electric bill. I think we hoped a bit that the cost would bring to an end these extravagant displays. Although one recent year, when the display did not go up, my wife and I felt unexpectedly disappointed. This year my sensibilities were to change altogether.

What changed them this year was my grandson Robert. Robert is four years old and was spending the night with us. We took him to see the house in all its luminous splendor. As we came upon the house we said, isn't it horrible, isn't it silly, as we fumbled to mold our grandson's aesthetic heritage. How could we not have anticipated his reaction to the house, his innocent delight, crying out with joy? He loved the house. It was the most wondrous house he had ever seen in his short life. He wanted to live in that house. I felt like Scrooge being visited by one of the spirits of Christmas. I saw the house differently. I saw this sumptuous feast for our sense of sight with Robert's young eyes.

What did Robert know of the profound mythology, the popular belief in theanthropism? He understood only the joy, only that someone wanted to make him and others happy and that was enough reason for the lights.

That was indeed enough reason for those lights. Another night I went back to the house, staying in my warm car, taking notes in preparation for this essay. I wanted to get the details right. I wanted to be accurate. And while I sat there, I was witness to the slow moving line of cars that came by to see the house. Some cars even parked and families climbed out despite the winter cold so that children could get a closer look. People were putting money into the box to help defray the cost of electricity.

It happened that a young fellow came out from the house to inquire as to what I was doing. The elaborate display belonged to him. He guards them from the shadow, for there has always been trouble with vandals, who one year even stole the money from the donation box. When I revealed I was preparing notes to write this essay for Snakeskin, he gave me a tour and I was allowed to see the whole of it from his point of view. Once out of the car, I could hear the music coming from the display.

Trained as an electrician, he showed me the clever details that went into this annual production, how it was all made safe and secure. Indeed, we recently had a windstorm with tornado warnings and gusts up to eighty miles per hour, yet he lost nothing. And he shared with me the personal history of his ritual, established by his father, carried on first by his older brother and now by him. He knew every glowing item in his vast collection and its history. He had started his part of the collection at age fourteen and he pointed out the subtleties that I would have never noticed. The unique magenta colour of lights on one tree resulted from the age of ancient bulbs that had faded, so old were they. Those particular bulbs are no longer being produced. Many of the decorations he crafted himself, such as the train and fireplace, and some of the figurines were donations. He tossed the lights on to the bushes allowing them to position themselves randomly, but the red bulbs interspersed with occasional green bulbs that ran along the outline of the roof he had carefully arranged, so that the green ones all lined up. His passion lit up his face and I found his enthusiasm contagious.

I had admitted to his efforts not being quite to my taste, and how among my family his art was regarded as something vulgar. I could see the light go out of his face and realized I had injured him deeply. I made amends by telling him of my conversion, having seen it all through my grandson's eyes.

That night I gave him a dollar towards his electric bill, which for this Christmas production comes to $1,200. When later I told my spouse, she said it wasn't enough, especially if I'm getting an essay out of it. We went back the next night and she put more money into the box.

The lights come down after the eighth of January. He had explained to me that his father served in the Second World War, when the Russians were our allies. The lights are left up long enough to include the Orthodox Feast of the Nativity.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the thirty-seventh in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.