Sunday, November 30, 2008

christmas lights

November 30th, 2008

9:43 am

Snow coming. Sky giving up nothing but gray. The world losing color to the cold. So that made yesterday even more important.

"It's still too early, isn't it?" I asked.

S.B. was sweeping the floor. Doing her best to keep busy on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

"Yes," she said, "But I think you're right. We should put them up today while the weather's still halfway decent."

"Okay, I'll get them out of storage. Make sure they're working, then start hanging them."

S.B. pointed the broom handle toward the ceiling. Upstairs, where Little Man was napping.

"I thought you told him he could help."

"Oh, he can. It's going to take me a while just to get them out and to see if their working."

"And what about the reindeer?" she asked.

"I have to get them out of the boxes. Put them together. Make sure their working."

"Where are you going to put them?"

"In front of the porch. So Little Man can seem them out the window if he wants to."

I put on my boots. My hat and and coat. Kissed her cheek. Patted her on the butt. Went outside.

Putting up Christmas lights is something I've always enjoyed doing. I love the holidays. Thanksgiving through New Year are important to me. Sure, I love the sweets, meats, and other things not good for me. But mostly, I feel closer to my family and friends. Not sure what it is. Maybe it's the forced recognition. Sending and receiving those Christmas cards. Giving and receiving presents. Visiting and reconnecting with people. Maybe it's just that this time of year makes you take stock. Realize who you are. Where you've been and where you're going. It makes you thankful for the good fortune of simply being alive.

"Ow! Holy hell!" I shouted, as a jolt of electricity zapped through my finger and up my arm.

S.B. had put on her coat. Was standing in the garage doorway, watching me. For how long, I don't know. I never know. It's like she's always watching. One day I was in the garage, playing with a Red Ryder BB Gun when I told her I was fixing the lawnmower. She must have been watching me play cowboy for ten minutes before she said anything. And when she did, it was with a laugh and a smile. Fixing the lawn mower, hey Cowboy?

I assumed this was the same thing. Me cussing and stomping around the garage. Detangling lights. Testing bulbs. Experiencing the holiday joy that only minor electrical shocks can bring. And I figured she must have been there ten minutes or so.

"What's the matter?" she said.

"Oh, nothing. Faulty wiring, I guess."

"Are you okay?"

I shook my hand. Stretched out my arm.

"Oh yeah, sure. I'm okay."

Little Man walked in. He was bundled up so that I expected a team of sled dogs to follow him in.

"Wow, is he heading directly to the North Pole?"

Little man smiled. S.B. patted him on the head.

I tossed the knot of lights on the floor. Moved over to the ones I'd already sorted.

"See here," I said. "We have our solid colors. Red, blue, and green. And here we have our multi-colored."

She smiled. Nodded. Little Man walked past. Grabbed his bike. Rode it out of the garage, down the driveway and started his normal route. Back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the house.

Me and S.B. took armloads of lights out to the front of the house and got at it. She worked on the vertical. I worked the horizontal. It wasn't hard to keep an eye on Little Man. He was a big red puffy ball. Riding bowlegged. Boots pumping the pedals like mad. The worse thing that could've happened would been if he'd fallen and wasn't able to get up.

We worked at the lights a long time. I made some boneheaded mistakes as I always do. Plugged a string of lights into itself. Strung a line of solid green into a line of mulit-colored.

"What are you doing?" asked S.B..

"Huh, what?" I asked.

"These right here," she said. "We can't have this. They're solid green."

"Sorry, honey. I'm just so excited to be doing this that I got carried away."

She stopped. Looked at me. She was sensing sarcasm that wasn't really there. Because I was serious. I was excited. Happier than heck to be out in the front yard with my wife, decorating for our first Christmas in our new home.

She stared at me a minute longer. I did not move. I felt like a deer in the crosshairs. Hoping to blend in with the scenery. Tried not to move.

I wonder a lot at what she thinks. Poor S.B. matched up with me. Her goofy, round-headed hubby filled with good intentions and big ideas. A dopey kid trapped inside a man's body. The wanna-be writer. The stay-at-home Dad. Trying and trying, but never really quite getting there.

We got back at it. Worked until the sun fell down. The cold crept in. And our bellies started to growl.

"I'm going to get Little Man and head in," she said.

"Yeah, he's logged about sixty miles. He's gotta be ready to wind down."

"What about supper?" she said.

"How about something simple? Like grilled cheese sandwiches."

"And tomato soup!"

And off they went. Little Man and S.B., and I kept on at those lights. I had to wind and unwind. String and restring. Test and retest. But soon, it was just me, my frozen hands, and the final act of plugging it all in.

I looked in through the window and there she was. Beautiful S.B.. Hair pulled up. Face aglow. Moving round the kitchen as graceful as a skater on ice. From the sink to the stove. The stove to the table. Stacking grilled cheese sandwiches. Ladeling soup. Cleaning up Little Man for supper. Our ceremonious holiday lighting would have to wait.

We ate our supper. Talked. Dealt with Little Man's evening meltdown. His daily struggle with being tired but wanting to stay awake. His little brain and body at odds with each other. Testing his boundaries. Testing our patience. But finally coming round to the Mommy and Daddy team with hugs, sorrys, and smiles.

"Come here!" I cheered to Little Man, as I opened the front door.

He ran to me with open arms. I picked him up. Held him close. Savored the moment. Wondered how long it would last before he would not want hugs or kisses, to be picked up by his old man.

We walked outside and plugged in the lights.

"Wow!" he said.

S.B. came onto the porch.

The three of us walked to the sidewalk. Stood together.

"Don't worry," I said. "This is only a test. It's too early to keep them on, I know. But at least now, they're up."

"It looks great, honey!" S.B. said, and she put her hand on shoulder. A warm tingle ran up my back. I smiled, drank up my family, the sight of the bright lights against the cold night, and then realized a whole section of lights were out.

And so it goes. The smallest projects always taking longer than expected. Things never quite coming out right. But keeping at it and trying. For my sweet S.B. and for my Little Man.

~ K.J.

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