“Bill! Get those pumpkins off the porch and take down the orange lights.” It was November First and Beatrice was ready.
Bill had promised to love Beatrice until death did them part but he thought he should have inserted an exclusionary clause exempting him from Christmas and the months preceding. But there was nothing he could do about it after forty years. He had his marching orders.
He packed the plastic pumpkins and orange lights into boxes and drove his pickup over to their double storage unit to pick up Christmas. The boxes and bins he loaded up were marked numbers from 1 to 40. Nos. 1 through 25 had to be delivered to the spare bedroom for Beatrice to sort through. For the two months, forget about the calendar. It was Christmas.
His next assignment was to open the first box which held the big inflatable turkey beside the house. It was a mere sop, a side show to the spectacle that was about to follow. Beatrice had given up on Thanksgiving which is more about food than decor. That last Thursday in November, they always took their sons out to the Country Buffet until they married. Her daughters- in-law rebelled and took over the feast in their own homes. None of them felt there was any point in going to Bill and Beatrice's house at all until until Christmas. That was fine with Bernice. Her eyes were set on bigger things.
By the second day in November, Bill was on a ladder putting up the exterior lights. There were the icicle lights that dropped from the eaves. There were the strands of big bulbs that had to be wound around the nine spruces. Each year the trees got taller. In another year he would have hire a cherry picker to wind them to the top where the golden stars waited. As long as he was up there he hung the giant ball ornaments Beatrice collected each year at the citywide rummage sales. As it grew darker, Bill set up the dozen small pre-lit trees that lined the driveway. It was only day two and he was exhausted and wishing he only had twelve days of Christmas to contend with.
Bill didn't mind the outside work in November because he knew that inside their little frame house, Beatrice was busy. There would be a tree in every room, sometimes, two. He would have preferred to go cut one live tree in mid-December but by then she would have all the interior decorating done and moving a tree through the house would be impossible. The trees had to be up before she could put the rest out. So up went the fiber optic trees, the pink aluminum trees, the white trees, the blue trees and to be traditional, one large vinyl green tree. Bill had to have them lit and assembled by November 7. As he worked there would Christmas music on the stereo. For two months he would be listening to Christmas carols. He and Beatrice never went to church but they listened to every religious anthem ever written including some dreadful Country Western albums she found at a garage sale. She had even found a Christmas polka CD.
Beatrice claimed none of it cost that much because almost everything she bought she found at thrift shops, rummage and estate sales or e-bay.
“I got it all for pennies,” she told her friends. All the same, Bill wouldn't let Beatrice light the trees until December 1. He hid the extension cords at the back of the storage unit and claimed he was looking for them. The January energy bill was always a horror.
By the end of the second week, all the trees were in place and decorated, so now Beatrice could put up the train that circled all around the biggest tree, through the dining room, on to the kitchen and downstairs bedroom. The train kept chugging along even going through the master bathroom so the door had to be kept ajar. Bill had to take a climb upstairs when he wanted to take a whizz. It was just as well because there was a tree in the downstairs bathtub. Beatrice talked about another in the upstairs shower but he put his foot down on that one.
Bill sometimes took a seasonal job to get away from it all, but even in the stores, the Christmas music was on all the time and decorations everywhere. He wished he had never retired.
When the trains were operational, with repairs going on all season, it was time for the miniature villages with houses that Beatrice had been collecting for years. The houses never matched so the villages looked a bit odd, as if some of the smaller homes belong to elves. No matter, each little domicile had to be taken out of the crates, oohed and aahed over by Beatrice, checked to see that it's lights were still working, and placed along the train track.
It wasn't the only interior lighting. By the third week, Bill had to haul in the fake fireplace that was stored in the basement. Above it Beatrice arranged a garland wound with the lights made out of shotgun shells. Winding upward on the railing leading to the upstairs there were pink flamingo lights. At the top and bottom of the step were giant flamingos wearing Christmas hats and wreaths around their necks, a nice finishing touch Beatrice thought. It is always good to keep a theme going.
By November 20, it was time to bring out the rest of the decorations. There were garlands draped over every room, real garlands purchased from the grandsons in Boy Scouts because Beatrice liked the pine scent. She brought out folding tables for every corner and covered them with seasonal table clothes in red and green to hold her collectibles.
It wasn't even that there was so much stuff, Bill thought, it was that it was so tacky. In the living room, it was a Santa motif. She had Santas of every kind. There were traditional Father Christmases she found on a trip to Europe. There were Santas in various colors. To be politically correct there were African-American Santas, Asian Santas, Hispanic Santas, and Native-American Santas. To show that she had a sense of humor, there was a Santa smoking and drinking beer. Santa sitting in an outhouse reading the Naughty & Nice List. Some of the Santas were motion activated. One began to dance to Jingle Bells when anyone walked by. One Santa swore. Another belched and yelled insults. If Bill went through the living room too fast they all activated at once.
The entryway theme was Star Wars Christmas: Yoda dressed as Santa, Darth Vader with a light saber that flashed red and green, the Millennium Falcon flying overhead. Beatrice thought the entry needed more work.
On Thanksgiving Day, it was time to finish outside, save for the two hours Bernice set aside to join her family dinner. No time for football with the boys for Bill. They stopped at the storage unit for the last bins and boxes, number 26 to 40.
For the enjoyment of passersby, there were plastic snowmen, candy canes, twirly trees, candles, Santa Clauses, penguins, polar bears, toy soldiers, white plywood deer and wire deer with white bulbs. Many of these things were wearing out and fading but they still had to go up. Big inflated decorations lay flat on the ground during the day, like colored pools, all Disney characters, some on motorcycles. The inflated turkey remained. Bill didn't see putting it away since it kind of blended in with everything else. By November 30, with a whoosh they were up and glowing.
Because Beatrice thought she ought to have at least one, in the middle of it all there was a life sized creche with everything from the Holy Family to camels. When Bill couldn't find the cradle, he put Baby Jesus in a Bud Light box and moved some sheep in front of it. Just temporary he said but moved on to other things. It was just as well, because the Baby Jesus was also motion activated. When anyone went by, the baby waved its arms and let out a big fart. With everything else going on, nobody passing by could figure out where it came from. Their attention was more often drawn to the big druid priest performing a human sacrifice that Bill constructed out of plywood. “To cover all the bases,” he told Beatrice. The city told him to take it down but he said there was such a thing as freedom of religion. To placate the city fathers, he put up a lit up America flag and a couple of soldiers with guns to show how patriotic they were. That was the end of the exterior display. They had run out of lawn.
The neighbors on either side complained. On the east side, the neighbors couldn't sleep because of all the lights until they installed heavy duty drapes. They asked Bill to pay for them and he quietly wrote out a check. On the west, the fundamentalists felt Beatrice and Bill didn't know “the real reason for the season” but then they never even had a Christmas tree. “No Christmas spirit whatsoever,” Beatrice said.
Finally on December 1, Beatrice could display out all the waxed figurines she saved from year to year. No one ever lit choir boy candles, Christmas tree candles, angel candles, or any of the shaped candles . Bill never saw the point. But Beatrice did like candlelight so bought bags of tea lights and lit them in their special containers the minute it got dark.
The tall candles in the wall sconces and candelabras wouldn't be lit until Christmas Eve. The big matches were ready.
There was a point to it all, of course. Beatrice wanted their house to be featured in the annual library Christmas walk. Surely this would be the year. She invited the head librarian for tea to let her look at all the glory. The librarian gasped in amazement as she went through the house but she said the houses had already been selected. “Maybe next year.”
Every so often circuits blew. Bill considered someone to re-wire the old house but could they really afford it? You couldn't get electricians from e-bay or rummage sales. He kept extra fuses on the ready.
The only people who actually got to see the wonder Bernice created were her and Bill. The daughters-in-law refused to come for Christmas Eve. There was simply too much for the grandchildren to get into. Besides, there were all those candles. The toddlers were drawn to fire. They all settled on a two hour visit on Christmas Day. If anything got broken then, well, Bill would have the whole next year to fix it.
It was just as well because an ice storm arrived on Christmas Eve day, making the roads slippery and covering the yard in silver. But that was perfect because the ice covered the ornaments making them glow. “Perfect for luminaries,” Beatrice cried. “ She scrounged in the cupboard for brown paper bags. Teetering on the ice, she set the bags through the lawn and lit a tea light in each one.
She fell once but refused to move until she could see it all. She sat on the sidewalk, a light snow was falling all around her.
“Oh Bill, isn't it glorious!”
She crawled back inside, just as the snowfall turned into a blizzard with strong winds. She watched as an inflated Mickey Mouse on a motorcycle cut loose and flipped over a luminary which tipped over, and burst into flames. It hit the Bud Light box. Baby Jesus went up in flames, farting all the while. The fire hit the Holy Family's extension cord. The fuses blew, throwing the property in darkness. Beatrice ran for matches and began to light every candle in the house while Bill called 9-1-1. One scone was too close to a garland that had gone dry. The garland took off up the walls to the ceiling which was hung with paper snowflakes.
Beatrice and Bill escaped and spent the night in a motel while the fire department fought the conflagration. In the end the house and all its decorations were gone.
It wasn't all bad, Bill figured. He could close the storage unit and insurance would cover the cost.
“Let's get a smaller house next time,” Bill said. “Or maybe we could live in an apartment. It's time to down-size.”
For the time being, that's what they had to do. By January 2 their mail was delivered to their new apartment The first thing they got were two Christmas catalogs. “If we start now, we could be in a new house and ready for the Christmas walk,” Beatrice said.
Bill threatened her with divorce.
She went on Facebook to report that her husband was waging a war on Christmas. She had heard all about it on television and here it was happening her own family.
“I don't know what happened to his Christmas spirit,” she said.