I drove through Zebulon last Saturday night on my way home from Hampton. This is the iconic southern town with the courthouse in the middle, surrounded by the buildings and shops that line the square. When I turned on Highway 18 headed out of town, I passed through what seemed to be the competitive residential section for Christmas lights.
It seems like very few “do lights” like we used to do them. But this row of houses was in full form. Porches lined out. Windows trimmed. Reindeer, Santa and sleigh in the front yard. Candy canes. Snowmen. Bushes lit up. Charlie Brown trees in the yard with twinkling lights. It was great.
Probably somewhere around 1965, I remember helping Dad get ready for the show. We lived way out of town, so it wasn’t like very many folks were going to see our lights. But that was no reason not to go all out.
We had these paper cut outs of Santa, the sleigh, and 8 tiny Reindeer that we mounted to ¾” plywood, which we cut out with a jig saw to match the shape of the figures. Altogether, this arrangement weighed more than a Herford bull, like lugging rocks across the front yard. They stood up with wooden stakes driven in the ground behind each piece. Four miles of extension cords and flood lights off the front of a Mississippi tugboat finished off the display.
There were plastic candles that stood on the front porch flanking the steps. Lights wound around the porch posts. A manger scene across the way with Wise Men who always looked . . . . . well, . . . concerned.
“Who’s the Jolly Old Saint on the other side of the yard?”
“What’s HE doing here?”
Every night we’d plug it in, and before bedtime we’d pull the plug and put the Baby Jesus and Rudolph in the dark.
It was a big deal to jump in the car with our pajamas on and ride into town to look at the lights. I had on Roy Rogers with footies. We would drive real slow down all the streets. North Avenue. Woodlawn. Oak Street. Mama would comment.
“Oh, look at that one. We should do that next year.”
But our display never changed. Dad seemed happy with the plywood Santa and the plastic candles. He liked to keep it simple once he put so much effort into something.
The one fad that never caught on at our house was the silver aluminum tree with the color wheel that spun around and changed the tree from blue, to green, to red, to yellow and back to blue. I looked at those from the car window and thought about the lucky kids that had a fancy tree in their living room.
Ours was a live tree from Dorsey’s Nursery that we kept in a tin tub until Christmas was over and then planted it in the yard. It was practical. Useful.
Thirty years later Dad paid some guy $600 to cut it down because he had planted it way too close to the house. Our tiny Christmas tree was 60 ft. tall and eating the house.
There is absolutely no better holiday than Christmas. It includes faith and hope and family and food and presents. And although I understand what Christmas is really all about, I also know that for any kid the anticipation of Santa and the avalanche of presents is where all the dreams live.
The real excitement set in once the Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalogue arrived. I was never much for books as a kid, but I could spend hours with that catalogue in my lap. Flipping through those pages was like giving a kid a pound of Hershey Bars before bedtime. I didn’t sleep with visions of sugar plums. No sir. I slept with visions of Bop-a-Bear.
“What the heck is a Bop-a-Bear?” Glad you asked. Can’t believe you’ve never heard of the best toy on the planet.
This wonder of joy was a plastic Bear about twice the size of a football. It sat close to the floor on a chassis with wheels hidden underneath. Two D batteries made it purr around on the floor, and our linoleum tile floors were perfect. Bop-a-Bear came with a rifle that shot plastic darts, and if you hit the Bear while he was rolling along, he would spin and take off in another direction. Hours of fun for me. A constant irritation for my parents, who I think vowed to sue Santa over ever bringing that one to our house.
Thank you, Santa. I’m an old guy who still remembers.
And what do you do with a 400 page Sears Roebuck Catalogue when Christmas is over? You fold down every corner of every page to the half-way mark, including the front and back covers. Open the book wide, all the way around until the cover pages touch back to back. Tape them together. Sit it down on the floor. And, walah! Instant Smurf-hut-looking-door-stop that hangs around until school lets out in June.
The great thing about Christmas is that it never wears out. It never grows old. It may sneak up on you as you get older.
“Is it Christmas-time again already? It was Fourth of July just last week, right?”
But the wonder is still there. There is no age limit on the joy of Christmas.
I’m not blind. I realize that Christmas is different for everyone. Christmas can hold the most treasured memories. Christmas can be full of pain and sorrow. But the circumstances of our lives do not change the fact that Christmas holds in it the greatest potential for joy the earth has ever known. Children leap out of their skin at Christmas. Grandmas burst inside for all the giggles from little ones. Or, maybe from too many cookies.
Wise men wink because they know.
So, If you are reading this, I am wishing you a very Merry Christmas this year. Hang a few lights, or a million of them. Dream about what could be. Leave milk and cookies out for old St. Nick. And if you come across an old Bop-a-Bear on Ebay, message me. I’ll send you my address.