What am I referring to? Random displays of crappy Christmas lights that assault your senses and frazzle your brain. Back in the day, a few strands strung here and there added sugar and spice to the season…charming to behold…..that is until life became too hectic.
There was no joy, happy family, or enchanted Christmas pudding to look forward to for most. There were, however, the little blinking lights that made everyone think you were living la dolce vita just like them. You could easily fake a bunch of holiday cheer by illuminating shrubs and trees in some frenetic attempt to look jolly.
Nowhere to go and no one to love you, it soothed your soul to know if you hung a few strands you could hoodwink the whole hood and no one would know your dark secret- that you were left all on your lonesome. “I prefer to have peace” you would say to yourself, as you popped another meal in the microwave oven, peering outside to see even the neighbors’ dog chomping on a Christmas bone.
In retrospect it seemed the charm of hanging lights was once done with great precision- strung perfectly as if designer elves had conducted the entire operation. If it took all day, so be it. Nowadays, however, they look like they’re strung by the Tasmanian Devil, circling pillar and post offending your eyes and making you think they were done by someone seriously unstable.
When I was about five years old, the highlight of my Christmas life was going to my grandmas’ house in Cleveland, Ohio that was in a rough patch of town. There was enough crime, robbery and shootings to fill any holiday stocking, but I was as happy as a clam at high tide in a mud shack just to be with her and my Aunt Dorothy. These were two of the sweetest people on the planet who adored animals and grew roses, tomatoes and cucumbers in their back garden. They had a giant apple tree that was fun to climb, as we watched police sirens wailing by racing to the latest robbery or double homicide. We would simmer apple sauce or bake cookies with sprinkles and make maple fudge, sometimes playing Candyland late into night, as we listened to the radio and shotguns going off in the distance. It was an idyllic situation, and the holidays glittered with even more magic as my Gram went all out for Christmas, putting up six Christmas trees (one large and five small), and every decoration under the sun, including baby Jesus in the manger. It was truly a festive event.
My mother always dressed us up in frilly little dresses, with patent leather shoes and little purses to hold your most important treasures; like a nickel, a stick of gum or rosary beads for church. I looked like Shirley Temple with giant curls springing from my head and was so skinny my dad called me “bag of bones”.
This one Christmas I was enthralled to find my Gram had given me an Easy-Bake Oven, not to mention other gifts she had gotten from garage sales and the five & dime store down the street. There was always awesome swag, like yo-yo’s that lit up, brooches and bangles, toys and jewelry boxes with pink ballerinas, popcorn balls, mechanical banks, cologne with puff ball atomizers, fluffy slippers and endless bits of candy. This Christmas was different though, something downright rotten had happened, making my curls stand straight on end.
I was on my grandmas dark green carpeting in the mint green living room as ornaments that bubbled and changed color dangled from the trees all around me. Luxuriating in pure Christmas spirit, bows in my hair, new plastic pink Barbie Doll rings on each finger, I was in pure culinary heaven mixing some batter with a spatula from my brand new Easy-Bake Oven.
A few minutes later it hit me like a stink-bomb when I heard my poor Grandma in crying in the other room. “The neighbors are so mean to me,” she sobbed, “they yell and call me names!”
My ears were on fire, Gram was so nice it made me livid that anyone would ever even think to upset her, especially now that Grandpa had died. A siren raced by and I took it as a sign from Santa that it was time to take matters into my own two, crocheted by Granny, Christmas gloved hands.
I put the tiny cake tin in the Easy-Bake Oven that cooked through the sheer genius of a 40 watt bulb. I set the bright orange timer that jingled a bell when the tiny baked cake would be done. I put on my pea coat with the Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer pin my Gram had just given me as I said to my unknowing parents, “I’m going outside to make snow angels!” No one seemed to notice I was wearing a dress, red stockings and black patent leather shoes under my green tweed coat, and was even holding my small blue shiny purse that looked like a psychedelic dolphin.
“Ok,” said my dad, “do you want to bring your sisters?”
“No,” I said darkly, “they will only get in the way.” I popped outside the back door and looked towards the neighbors’ house. The lights are on, I thought to myself, those chuckleheads are doomed.
I scaled the old chain link fence like a rabid squirrel and stomped through the snow, down their driveway and walked up the path to their front door, though first admiring the Santa lamp holding a giant jingle bell up to the wind. I noticed they had blinking fairy lights strung all around the door even down by the threshold as I sinisterly crushed them with my shiny black shoes. I violently lobbed Santa’s bell over the front porch, making it land with a quiet thud on the top of their redneck car. I knew it was up to me to settle this score, as the snowflakes silently fell and the streetlights started blinking on. I pushed the doorbell and fixed my bows while practicing my scowl before the front door opened.
A hillbilly man with two hillbilly sons answered the door with some hillbilly dog standing beside them.
“HAHA! Are you here to sell us candy little girl?” He said oblivious to the fact I was the neighbors grandkid.
“Um, no Sir,” I stuttered.
“Oh, are you collecting donations for a charity?” Sneered his dirt-bag brat who lamely tried to guess my objective, “I already gave at the office!”
"I don’t even know what a charity is,” I replied.
“I hate Girl Scout cookies….” interrupted the other degenerate that had a bowl cut and a bad attitude, “only because I HATE Girl Scouts.” He looked me up and down, “Ya look like a Girl Scout to me.”
“No. I am too young to be a Girl Scout and am only a Brownie right now…. my grandma lives next door and…”
“Is everything okay?” they asked with a smirk.
“Yes, thank you for asking, she is fine….but… I am here to say…. IF YOU EVER YELL AT MY GRANDMA AGAIN…. I’M GONNA….. BURN DOWN THIS HOUSE AND CUT OFF YOUR DOGS HEAD!”
They gasped, as someone behind them dropped something like glass that shattered and splattered. They looked upon me with shock and horror before slamming the door in my face, as I and my curls bounced back to grandmothers place.
Walking in through the door my dad was flipping out, “Bones! Why didn’t you tell us you were using your Easy-Bake Oven? You could have burned the whole house down!”
I took this as a sign from Santa that, if worse came to worse, I could burn down the neighbors’ home with my Easy-Bake Oven. I ate dinner that night so relieved knowing my old granny would finally be safe.
A few months later the rednecks moved out, and a wonderful old couple took their place. I remember thinking Santa had granted me the biggest Christmas wish ever! It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling even better than my Easy-Bake Oven did…. Ah, I thought as I finally ate the gumdrops off the gingerbread house my Gram and I had made, Christmas dreams really do come true! Wonder who I’ll take down at Easter.