November 29, 2005

Set the house to blinding!

It’s Christmas time again. Everyone is starting the annual tradition of putting up Christmas decorations. Ogre is proud of his display. Tammi, whom promised herself she wouldn’t, put some up. Boudicca talks about her obsessive-compulsive disorder regarding Christmas decorating. These three are amateurs, combined they have nothing on the Christmas hell that I grew up in.

Let me establish the fact that Christmas has to be one of my LEAST favorite holidays. The only thing in recent years that has made it at all enjoyable for me is watching the boy’s excitement at it. Personally, I could live with out another Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukah, winter solstice celebration or whatever people celebrate this time of year. I’d say I’m the mix between Scrooge and the Grinch… but that is still too much of a Christmas reference for me. I guess that is why my childhood home at Christmas really grated on my nerves.

My mother had a huge selection of Christmas decorations. Our house had no less then two full sized trees and a third 2-3 footer. Every room had multiple decorations, (except my room, I’d put them away or sneak them into other rooms if they invaded into my territory.) Our main bathroom had a Santa shower curtain, Christmas toilet seat, various Christmas towels, washcloths, soaps, mirror decorations, even window dressings and rugs. A friend of mine, I believe LittleJoe, once described it as a “gay snowman threw up in the bathroom.” From Christmas china, silverware, serving ware, glassware and table dressings to comforters, sheets and even bathrobes the interior of our house was a Christmas nightmare. Red, green, gold and white was the theme from Black Friday to the 2nd of January. My mother had a very strict schedule on when decorations went up and came down. My mother would spend a week baking Christmas cookies. She would make at least 35 different types of Christmas cookies and candies and at least six dozen of each type. That wasn’t even near the worst part of it. Nope, that would be my Father.

Everyone jokes about how their house looks like the Griswold’s from Christmas Vacation. I hate to break this to you, but my house was the model for that! My father had in excess of 30 figurines, including a full manger scene complete with angels and animals. He built a five-foot tall steel star and hung it on the top of our flagpole, then ran lights down to the manger to show it shining light on it. There were two, yes two, Santas. One climbing down the chimney and one in a sleigh with his 12 reindeer. A four-foot snow man, a choir, 6 toy soldiers, 6 candy canes and two candles finished off his figurine display. Every bush and tree was covered in lights. That was 5 trees and 26 bushes. Each tree/bush had at least one string of 50 lights on it, the trees got up to five strings of 100 lights. The house was covered in lights. Around every window and along every edge, the house was completely lined in lights. Even our mailbox on the street had lights on it.

They were all multi-color lights as my father hated plain white bulbs, the thought they were too bland. He felt color was more eye catching. More eye catching. Just how eye catching did he want? At night, the neighbors with in three houses of us didn’t need to turn on yard lights as our spot-house would day glow the neighborhood. Whenever giving directions to my house I would just tell people head to this major intersection and head for the glowing house. They would laugh until they arrived, and then I would get. “You’re not kidding.”

My father would start the Friday after Thanksgiving putting up the outside decorations. If the weather cooperated, he would finish in 9 days. He would spend all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving from 7 AM to 10 PM just putting up lights and decorations. During the week he would rush home after work and continue putting up decorations until well after 10:00 PM. The following Saturday and Sunday, he would finish up. Of course, When I was around eight I had to start helping him put up the decorations. For those of you that have met me in person, this is where I learned my colorful vocabulary. As things would go wrong, my father’s language would get harsher. The older I got, the harsher it would get. When I was 17, I had this conversation with my father:

Dad: “The G*D DAMN lights aren’t working. What the Fvck is going on. Hand me the damn pliers”

Me: “Which pliers?”

Dad: “The pliers right there in front of yo… SHITE!”

Me: “What?”

Dad: “That whole string went out. I hate these types of lights, one bulb goes out, the whole damn line goes out. I don’t have time for this shite! Go check all the bulbs on this string.”

Me: “Son of a beotch…”

Dad: “Hey, don’t let your mother hear you use language like that!”

My father just loved most of the attention that he received after the lights where up. He made it in the news all the time and even once won an award for best decorated house in North America… or something like that. He was in newspapers and even a local magazine once. What he didn’t like was the miscreant attention he would get. Inevitably, with in a week of getting any type of media attention some numb nut would vandalize the house. They would steal or break figurines. Once time they took wire cutters to some of the strings of lights and cut them up… which caused a fuse to blow. Every time this would happen, my father would replace the missing or damaged decorations. I always felt bad for him when this would happen as I could see the hurt in his eyes. He spent all that time and energy just to “brighten up” the holidays and some jerk would ruin his display.

However, there were some other funny parts. My father installed timers and a separate circuit box just for the lights. He had to set the timers so that the lights would come on in three phases over 15 minutes. If he didn’t do this, it would actually brown out part of the neighborhood or trip a circuit breaker. Our neighbors joked they could tell when it was dark out from the way the lights would flicker in their house between 4:30 and 5:00 every evening. Commonwealth Edison, the electric company, loved my parents. We used to get a Christmas card from them every year. Now before you say they send one to everybody… no, they don’t. Our neighbors never received one and to this day, I’ve never received one from them. Friends of mine didn’t believe me about this, until the came over and I would show it to them, hanging on a door with all the other Christmas cards my parents received.

About 6 years ago, my father stopped putting up as many lights as he had been. He suffered his first heart attack and one of the things he had to cut out was the strenuous activities. His cardiologist advised that he could not spend the amount of time out in the cold putting up lights like he used to. My father got rid of all the figurines, and at least 80% of the lights. He also got rid of the star, the one that he spent a Saturday making himself, out of metal. The one he was so proud of because no one else had one like it. It was one of the few times I saw my father upset over any material possession.

Thinking back to all those Christmases, I remember the star. I took the star. I don’t have a flagpole, or any place really to hang it. So it sits along the wall on my back porch lighting it up. It’s mine now, and some day it’ll be Clone’s. That makes my father happy.

Posted by Contagion in Stories about me. at November 29, 2005 01:03 PM | TrackBack

“gay snowman threw up in the bathroom.”

wiping coffee from keyboard......

Posted by: caltechgirl at November 29, 2005 02:20 PM

oh and, sorry, but I'm having "A Christmas Story" flashbacks right now.

Posted by: caltechgirl at November 29, 2005 02:22 PM

I was thinking Christmas story too.

IMHO, I think you should get some way to hang up that star. Clone will love it...

Posted by: Bou at November 29, 2005 09:54 PM

I will fully back up every part of this story, including the Christmas card from Com-Ed. I called major bullshit on that until I saw it, then laughed my ass off. I still laugh my ass of about it.

Posted by: Graumagus at November 30, 2005 02:42 AM