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Smell your Christmas presents

It’s 6:00 PM, about a week before Christmas 1975, and 8 year old S. Blue is under the Christmas tree with his Matchbox cars. And I mean under the tree. There I am. Behind a few early-arrived packages, those are my pair of sock feet sticking out with a bit of tinsel looped around.

You see, under the tree is a great place to soak in as much Christmas as possible, sort of like a Christmas tanning bed. The multi-colored lights glow together to produce a luminescence the quality of which exists at no other time of year and in no greater quanity than here, and I am determined to absorb the maximum amount of color and taste and sound and smell of Christmas.

It suddenly occurs to me that mom is busy in the kitchen and no one else is around. I belly crawl out from under the tree and sneak upstairs to do a little snooping.

The door to mom and dad’s room is closed and it squeaks like crazy, so I go around to the bathroom closet. There is a back door that opens to my destination. As I inch my way in, the dark bedroom looks like a north pole tornado. Giant coils of red, green, and white ribbon lay partially unwound on the bed. Tall rolls of wrapping paper with Santa Claus, and snowflakes, and ornaments, and candy canes drunkenly hold each other up in the corner.

There’s an unfamiliar pair of sharp-looking scissors, not the old red pair from the junk drawer in the kitchen that don’t really scissor as much as gnaw. And stacked half as tall as the ceiling is a pile of Christmas presents, dozens of mysterious shapes wrapped in brightly colored paper, big enough that if I climbed up I could almost touch the ceiling.

Silence. The last purple glow of sunset barely illuminates the first tag I lift to read…”Joe”. That’s my brother. Lift another. Score! I have no idea what it is, but it’s huge. A submarine, maybe. I take a deep breath, not knowing that I’m storing away the scent of Christmas presents for years to come. (If you have any “magic” transparent tape in the house, go find it and take a sniff. You’ll thank me.)

I’m becoming acutely aware of the amount of time I’ve been off-radar, so I reluctantly but excitedly tip-toe back through the closet and downstairs.

In the living room again, I jump onto the big couch under the picture window. My cars are still under the tree. A traffic jam caused by a Lego robot. On the TV, Gilligan thinks he’s a vampire.

Outside on our front porch, the big C9 Christmas lights glow brightly. Mr. Sorgel’s all-blue display across the street shines coldly, and two houses down on the Klotz’s front porch an aluminum tree changes colors – blue, purple, red, orange, yellow. Windows, doors, and porches twinkle in electric glory all up and down Elm Street.

Chicken and gravy smells waft in from the kitchen. I slide back under the Christmas tree with my cars and legos.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas lights are dangerous and want to kill you – Part 2

It was a cold, damp evening. Thick fog poured from deep woods and out of culvert pipes to cover yards and driveways in our subdivision, mailboxes transformed into mute sentries along the sides of the road. For the first week of December, the scene was more reminiscent of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow than It’s a Wonderful Life, but weather in the Ohio Valley is like Russian roullette with a Gatling gun. Tornadoes or ice storms. I’d just be happy with a good 4-6 inches of snow and strains of Belavia on the news at 11:00 while they scroll the list of school closings.

Anyway, it was a dark and foggy night, and our neighbor clanged up and down an aluminum extension ladder, a miniature lighthouse unto himself lit by the many strands of lights draped around his neck. He was in the process of wiring a 30′ Christmas tree. More accurately, he was hanging long strands of C9 lights from the chimney in the shape of a tree. C9 bulbs are those great big lights that look great on a house, but are the most evil of all Christmas light types.

The C9 bulb is uniquely designed to explode upon the slightest impact with any other object, but most often with each other. You’ll need leather gloves and a pair of pliers to remove the electrified, jagged glass blossom left behind. These things will go out just to trick you into tightening the bulb. That’s when you’re most likely to end up with a handful of colorful broken glass.

He was too far away and high up to notice me as I ambled past, a shadowy wake cutting through the mist, intent on getting its lap around the subdivision in before The Simpsons came on at 7:00. So he didn’t know he was being scrutinzed. All the hallmarks of a holiday tragedy were in play. Slippery, wet, electrically conductive ladder – check. Darkness – check. Christmas light noose – check.

I kept going. God help me, but I just kept going. If the Christmas lights were going to attack, they would have done it by the time I came strolling by, so everything turned out fine in the long run.

However, I think that the pact, whatever it was, into which he and those C9s had entered has ended. Or relations are strained. Last night as I hurried past his house (and I do mean hurried because the coyotes were on the prowl and despite the confidence lent by hefting a not inconsequential Maglite, I wasn’t at all convinced that they wouldn’t come down off the ridge and feast on me at any moment, 17 pound flashlight in hand or not), I noticed that a handful of lights up at the very apex of his tree were out.

This was an outright invitation to destruction, but would he take the bait? We’ll have to wait and see.

There has only ever been one Christmas – The rest are anniversaries

One of life’s truths is that one’s dedication to an ideal is reflected in the complexity of one’s Christmas light display.

This is completely unfair, of course. Who’s to say that the house with 50,000 lights, a penguin army, and Santa flying a helicopter across the front yard harbors more Christmas spirit than that house with the single strand of mini lights tossed haphazardly over the bushes? It’s not a question of spirit, really, but another compulsion altogether. Or mania.

It is also a truth of life that Christmas lights are dangerous and will try to kill you. They’re not content to simply hang from your gutters. One or two lights on the highest gable will conspire to go out right after you put away your extension ladder. Going back up that ladder is the equivalent of investigating an odd moaning noise at the back door during a zombie outbreak. It’s a ruse. Leave it be.

Better to pursue your ideal by focusing on other things like making little Santa hats to put on all your lawn flamingos.

Snug Harbor’s Christmas lights – and flamingos with little santa hats

“Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker” ~Linus Van Pelt

Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet suckerThanksgiving ranks higher than perhaps Valentine’s Day, but not as high as Easter on the kid holiday scale where Christmas sits firmly at the top. Maybe it would score higher if there were presents involved – perhaps cornucopias filled with toys. As it is, Thanksgiving, or “Christmas Lite”, will likely remain that peculiar attendant satellite to December 25, content to kick off the “official” start of the season that by then is probably a little bruised by so many stores kicking it since August. Still, Turkey Day holds its own special appeal and a long history in my book of memories.

Back on Elm Street in the 1970s, there were only a few times each year when we had our meals in the dining room, and these were always special occasions. I recall one particularly unfortunate birthday dinner for my brother Jamie consisting mainly of squirrel. Scratch that. I recall a pile of tiny gray “chicken legs” and spitting buckshot into my napkin.

Various birthdays and ancillary holidays that manifested throughout the year were celebrated in feast form in that dark dining room, and I enjoyed them all save for the one squirrel affair.

Unless you had some form of advance warning radar, the only way we kids knew something was going on was when a little plate of gerkins and olives would appear on the buffet in the dining room. Or you might be tipped off by the extra six pack of 7-up in the back of the pantry hidden under a brown A&P bag. Hidden in the sense that putting your paws over your head is an effective dog camouflage maneuver.

Pilfering gerkins or the occasional roll before dinner is a cherished part of my Thanksgiving experience, as is sipping 7-up from the special gold glasses that were shaped like goblets, and sitting on the back steps and breathing in the sublime aromas from my mother’s kitchen. That’s the definition of anticipation, and that’s possibly where we’ve gone off-kilter in the years since.

In our anticipation of Christmas we sort of skipped over Thanksgiving, unwilling to live in that moment of expectation, to savor that now and instead jump right into the biggest holiday there is. It seems like we’re cheating ourselves out of something important.

Like memories of a family feast where the idea is simply to gather together and say thank you. The plates and silverware that you only see three or four times a year. Burning candle wax. That mysterious Essence that fills the room more than just the people gathered around the table.

Buckshot in your napkin.

But Thanksgiving isn’t just dinner. I am thankful for lots more. It’s also football, parades, and playing outside in the leaves. Here are some pictures to remind you what that feels like.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pictures of dogs playing in a big pile of leaves