Years ago, when Sweet Husband and I were newly married, we bought our first home. A big old rambling, fixer-upper, craftsman on the tree lined street in Pasadena, California where he had grown up. We busted our asses working on that place. We were a house proud couple when Christmas rolled around that year.
We decided to divvy up the holiday decorating responsibilities. I chose the interior and the front porch. Sweet Husband would hang lights on the exterior and we’d trim the tree together.
The tree went well. We put some Christmas tunes on the hi-fi and got busy. He had a small collection of ornaments from his childhood. I filled in the bare spots with some handmade things I had been working on since August. When the tree was finished and looking great we made another pot of coffee and split up.
I laid pine and magnolia branches across the wide mantle. Placed candles and holly throughout the house. Touches of red berries here and there. I hung a natural green wreath on the massive front door. Giant pots of poinsettias on the stone steps. While working I listened to the busy noise of Sweet Young Husband. He whistled a happy tune to the rhythmic beat of the staple gun up on the roof.
All finished with my part I called him down from the ladder. We stepped back on the sidewalk and soaked up the picture. The house looked just as I hoped it would. Simple. Elegant. Christmas. “It’s beautiful, Hon,” said Sweet Husband. “When it gets dark I’ll show you the lights!”
After dinner he excitedly led me out to the street, one hand over my eyes. With a “TA DAAA” he revealed his creation. Carnival in Rio. The Vegas Strip. Mardi Gras. None were as bright as that house! Before me blinked and chased thousands of red, blue, green and orange mini lights. Hundreds of strands ran back and forth across the roof top. Around windows and doors. Stars, Christmas trees, and yep, right there, front and center, a Peace sign!
I was overwhelmed. I started to feel dizzy and had to sit down on the steps. “Well, what do you think?” he asked. I shielded my eyes from the blinking barrage. I had read somewhere that flashing lights could trigger epileptic seizures, if you are prone to that sort of thing. I felt prone.
“Isn’t it great? This is so cool! It’s just as I pictured it.” He was so happy. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I felt a weird, off-center, feeling each time I glanced out from under my hand. That first Christmas I realized something important. I may own the daytime, as far as Christmas is concerned, but without a doubt, Sweet Husband owns the night.
Every year it was the same scene. Simplicity by day. The tilt-a-whirl by night. Cars lined up in front of our house. Little faces pressed against the back windows. Lots of Oooing and Ahhhing. The sidewalk filled up with families. Our neighbor across the street gave up hallucinogenic drugs.
December 26th became half-priced light day. Each year the light show, like our marriage, became a little bit bigger and more complex.
Sixteen years ago Sweet Husband and I packed up the family and left the big city. Our traditional southern home sits on a dark, narrow, two lane road outside of the suburbs. We have only one neighbor. We are surrounded on three sides by national park, forest, and field. No sidewalks. No street lights. When we first moved here I had hoped to get my way with the Christmas lights.
“Maybe this year we can just do twinkling white lights? You know, since nobody will see your work all the way out here…” I suggested.
“Oh, they’ll see it,” he said and proceeded to hang the most elaborate and garish array ever.
And see it they did. A local Atlanta rock station used to broadcast a Tacky Lights Tour Guide. Sweet Husband made the tour that first year. It was his proudest moment. I swear. Our address was on the list annually until the station changed formats.
Folks can’t park and sit and stare on our little road as they did in the city. They cruise by. And drive off the road. A lot. Sitting in our home during the holidays we hear the ba-lump-bumps of unsuspecting drivers veering off into the ditch as they catch sight of the display. Our home. The Christmas Lights House.
One December my youngest daughter had an emergency tonsillectomy. The anesthesiologist, a pleasant young doctor, spoke with my little girl, trying to put her at ease as he hooked up the IV. He asked her where she lived and when she told him the name of our road he asked, “Which house? I drive that way to work every day.”
“You know the Christmas Lights House? That’s us,” she replied.
“No kidding!” he cried out. “I take my kids past your house every year! It’s our favorite!”
He then asked me if we‘d found his hubcap. He was sure he’d lost it in our ditch the weekend before. My daughter was delighted with the celebrity. I cringed and gave the nice doctor Sweet Husband’s phone number. The doc wanted to ask him how he ran all that power without burning the house down.
This last year has been a rough one for Sweet Husband and me. Our Year of Letting Go. The death of my mother. The two youngest children moved out within weeks of each other and left us with a very empty nest. I suffered a serious back injury. Our shrinking 401k.
Two days ago Sweet Husband drug the boxes out of the attic and, armed with a brand new staple gun, began hanging the lights for our twenty fifth Christmas together. I was busy inside and it felt nice to hear him crawling over the roof. Thunk-thunking electric strand to asphalt shingle. I was certain this yearly ritual of de-classing our home would do his spirits good.
When night fell I was called outside to view the finished product. Led out onto the walk, eyes closed per tradition, I turned around. At “TA DAAA” I opened my eyes and was stunned. I couldn’t breathe. The entire house was outlined in tiny white lights. Tastefully done. It looked like the cover of Country Home. I got dizzy and had to sit down.
“Isn’t it beautiful? It’s just how you’ve always wanted it.”
I looked at my husband. My prince among men. A little grayer this year than last. Oh, my sweet, sweet King of Christmas Crap! This year has been harder on him than I realized. Sadness overwhelmed me. He had conformed. Given in. I had beaten him down with my years of “Can’t they just twinkle?”
“They’re all white,” I said.
“I like white,” he said.
I sat there for a few minutes and soaked up the beauty. The starry night. The white light glow against the dark house.
“Can they flash and chase?” I asked finally.
Relief and joy. That’s what it looked like to me. My Sweet Husband’s face.
“You bet your ass they can! Give me some new ideas now, Hon. I’ve got seven thousand colored lights to hang tomorrow!”
Last night we sat reading peacefully by the fire. Listening to the sound of car, after car, running a wheel into the ditch out in front of our house.