Still married to a Christmas nut
By Anthony Buccino
Through the years,
we’ve untangled strands of lights on dismal bushes, shown
spotlights on our wreath, set out twisted twigs in the shape of
reindeer and a glittering, lighted, two-piece Santa that kept
losing his head in strong winds.
...At the end of November, my plain, normal, ordinary English teaching wife went mad. She whistled tunes about a fat guy, deer that stand in the rain and told me not to be naughty because I was being watched. She cluttered the breakfast table with holly until I could not find my cereal bowl. It was too late to change her or find a cure, I married a Christmas Nut!...
Well, that’s how we recorded our first holiday several decades ago in that tiny apartment in Belleville, N.J.
Thirty-two years ago it took an hour or so to set up our Christmas tree with its two boxes of borrowed ornaments and some tinsel. The old days were so simple. We wrote a rent check, and one for the phone bill, we had two incomes and no kids.
Now, it’s seven major job changes, one kid finished with college and grad school, nine cars and three dogs later and our holiday decorating has grown exponentially and it takes about two full days to spruce up our house for the holiday. And that’s just the inside.
Outside, we have one wreath, with a red ribbon bow. And maybe there’s a small stuffed Santa Claus in the center. We have to force the door closed against the storm door, and that has been flattening the big green wreath.
Through the years, we’ve untangled strands of lights on dismal bushes, shown spotlights on our wreath, set out twisted twigs in the shape of reindeer and a glittering, lighted, two-piece Santa that kept losing his head in strong winds. But, at least, the outside is done.
One year, here in northeastern New Jersey, it started snowing early in the season and didn’t stop until March. That stick reindeer was up to its chest in layers of fallen snow. Like in a glacier, you could count the snowfalls by the layers of ice. The orange extension cord, a mere memory until the big melt revealed the piles of fallen leaves in the gutters and a fallen rake here and there.
My wife's appreciation of this holiday stems from her dad's story. He was four-years old, the youngest of eight children, when his dad was killed in coal mine in 1929. The coal miners' kids were appreciative to get an orange for Christmas. When the Salvation Army showed up with a basket of food, that was the miracle of Christmas.
A neighbor put up a wreath several years ago, moved and left the new owner with instructions to leave the wreath until the Second Coming. That old withered wreath is starting to show some wear. It has a lone brown crinkled pheasant feather from the original Yankee Doodle hat and resembles a long-forgotten wasp nest. If that wreath was inside, it would be condemned as a fire hazard.
This year, for the first time, we split up the decorating chores. Our first Saturday saw the sorting and downloading from the attic to the second floor of as many boxes of inside-the-house decorations as we could find. Apparently, a few boxes are laying low – perhaps under boxes of tree ornaments or one of several green tree stands that no longer hold water, yet remain in the attic ‘just in case.’
On the second level, we (she pointed and I moved and) sorted the decorations we would use this year. Although the boxes all seemed to be the same jumble of Florida grapefruit crates, special cable shopping show boxes for ornament storage and assorted white office supply boxes, she seemed able to see through them to tell what was stored in each.
Following last year’s debacle when the Santa collection set on the dining room table had to be removed and relocated and then returned in place for each major meal, the dozens of Santas finally got their own place on the buffet. This year, a set of Santa lights are spread out sharing their red and white glimmer of peace and good cheer. You could even say the Santas glow.
On the mantel, the family photos are pushed back against the wall as the snowman collection poses front and center behind a doubled strand of white lights on thin green wires.
Above the fireplace, plugging in and unplugging the lights is no easy matter. One wrong move and the snowmen tumble like white dominoes in an avalanche to the burgundy carpet. Meanwhile, a one-hundred pound chocolate Labrador retriever rests for that one moment in time when a real, like Frosty the snowman, snowman falls out of the sky and says, “Okay, Cujo, this is it. Carry me around the house as fast as you can and don’t let the humans get us!”
And so it goes. The TV set carries the singing mouse choir. The mistletoe gets hung up in this doorway rather than that old doorway no one walks through since we put the tree on the other side.
In fact, only Zamboni, our chocolate Lab, barrels through that way anymore. Stand there long enough and he’ll pass by with a stuffed Santa in his maw. It is as if Santa shares his secrets and the dog seems to float past the drooping branches barely stirring the ornaments on their thin wires, and few, if any, ever crash to the floor.
Zamboni better watch out or he might find coal in his stocking. When I was a kid, my dad warned me there would be no Christmas this year. I knew it was because, as a carpenter, he was often out of work in the winter months. But somehow, they always came through with something. It may have been a Charlie Brown tree, but it was mine.
In my house, the wire mesh letter holder, with its welded snowmen is secure on an exposed finishing nail on the inside of the front door. There's already one Christmas card inside.
We still get cards although we haven’t sent any out since 1990. We like to see the pictures of old friends’ children as they’ve grown, and old friends as they grow old. Some holiday, perhaps, we shall all be together again.
And, next Saturday, the tree.
For now, the half empty boxes of dissed decorations would make the trip up the attic drop stairs and wait in a side space until after the holidays when they rejoin the ornaments that shared our festivities. They’ll spend the off-months telling each other tales of bright lights and shiny paper as the air in that sparkling season became full of hope.
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''New Jersey's 'Garrison Keillor' '' **
** "... or something to that effect"
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’
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