My beloved Grandma on my dad’s side, who passed away almost four years ago, would decorate for Christmas like it was her JOB. In fact, her job actually was to decorate—she worked as a successful, quirky, eclectic interior decorator until she was 92 years old. (Ninety-FREAKING-two years old, and she lived to 96)! As such, she reveled in and thrived on the brilliant color and pageantry that goes hand-in-hand with Christmas. Each year she would decorate a fat, ornate, 12-foot-tall, glitzy, whimsical tree in her living room, and most years she would have an additional pink tree, palm tree, colored-lit tree, white-lit tree, bedroom tree, bathroom tree, etc, etc, for as long as I can remember. The whimsy varied, year after year, but the reigning theme was always, unfailingly: Let There Be Light.
For the outside of the house, my grandparents hired people to come and string thousands of lights through the hundreds of trees in her yard, splashing in a lighted snowman here, a Santa with his reindeer there, a bunch of carolers looking over their hymnals in the corner, angels singing their Good News from on high in the treetops. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap, but it was a labor of love and responsibility to all the people in their small town – people who came to depend on those lights as their family tradition. My grandma told the story many times of the elderly man who rang the doorbell one December with tears rolling down his cheeks and told Grandma that he and his wife came to see the lights every single year, and since she’d just passed away, this was the first year he’d had to come without her. He was going to keep coming, he assured her, for as long as his body would let him.
For that elderly gentleman, for their own grandchildren, and for all the strangers who came and just parked their kid-packed cars on the street, gazing at the thousands upon thousands of glittering, twinkling, blinking lights, my grandparents knocked themselves out, year after year. They brought us magic.
That is Grandma’s Light Legacy. That is the Vegas opening act I am compelled to follow—to CHASE–for the rest of my Advent calendars. That is why Clark Griswold and I are kindred spirits, simpatico, peas in a pod, berries from the same holly sprig, petals from the same poinsettia, brothers from another mother . . .well you get the idea. Like Clark, I feel so much pressure, such high-strung, light-or-flight emotion packed into the challenge of my house’s holiday illumination, and NO ONE is capable of doing it – and of making Grandma proud – but me. So, it’s me and only me, each year unknotting massive strings of lights, winding them round and round a 10-foot, merciless, prickly tree, and with the room still spinning, doing the drunken sailor on a stepladder while lassoing the lights to the highest branches. It’s me, year after year, shivering in front of the house with my face screwed up in consternation, trying to force the starved left side of my brain to determine the most logical configuration of nine million extension cords. It’s me hauling out the reindeer, muttering curse words while bending over behind them trying to spread their wobbly little legs so that they stand up straight, while my neighbors look on from their cozy, warm houses, slosh their egg nog around, and accuse me of humping Prancer and Dancer.
It’s me, year after year, and I still can’t hold a candle to you, Grandma . . . I miss you so much this time of year. I hope you can see me and my lights from up there. (Just in case you can hear me too, I’m really sorry about all the swearing).