For the third time in four nights, Missy and I hit the road. And as we drove, the nightly refrain again rang out.
“Look a’ that!” Missy’s finger shot out to indicate a brilliantly decorated home and yard, accented by an inflated sleigh with reindeer.
“Look a’ that!” A roof edge outlined in blue-white LEDs, looking as though it had been claimed by stained-glass icicles.
“Look a’ that!” Electric candles in the windows, the only soft glow the house had.
“Look a’that! Look a’that! Lookit!”
By the end of the trip, Missy’s busy finger was still requesting new avenues to explore, pointing out the signs of lit homes and neighborhoods all the way back to the house. At her direction, we could have gone for hours longer, then likely started again.
“Want to do this again?” I asked as we pulled back into the driveway.’
Vigorous nodding. “Yeah!”
I couldn’t blame her. After all, my inner Missy was doing exactly the same thing.
There are a few things that really mark the start of the Christmas season to me. There’s the annual struggle to find and erect the Christmas tree, festooning the branches with every long-held decoration we own, right down to the bodiless head of Holly Hobbie. (LONG story.) There’s the comforting strains of John Denver and the Muppets, singing in the season as only they can. (After all these years, I still automatically respond to “Five … gold-en … rings!” with “Ba-dum, bum, bum!”) And yes, there’s the well-worn tapes and discs bearing tales of Scrooges and Grinches and sad-looking Christmas trees that only need a little love.
But the essential punctuation for me has always been the lights.
My wife Heather’s the same way. We react to Christmas lights the way a groundhog reacts to its shadow, ready to add six more weeks to the season just so we can see it all. We spent many a date night noting and categorizing the displays we’d pass, including:
* The Landing Strip: A roof perfectly outlined in a single color, with no other decoration, seeming to call out to passing aircraft, sleighs or UFOs.
* The American Epileptic Association Award: A home with so many blinking and flashing lights that it could have been level 37 of an especially busy video game.
* Disneyland: The home and yard that had been completely taken over by lights, figurines and licensed characters, cramming in five Santas, two Nativities, the whole Mickey Mouse family and a utility bill that could have reset the national debt.
* Oh, Really?: These would be the well-intentioned ones that somehow didn’t come off quite right, like the automatic Santa Claus in one home that bobbed back and forth, looking oddly like he was pounding on the window, trying to escape.
After we became guardians to Missy, my wife’s developmentally disabled aunt, it cranked up the Light Run by a few notches. No surprise, really, because Missy is a little like a home at Christmastime herself.
No, I don’t mean that she comes with running lights and glowing reindeer (though she might find that really cool, come to think of it). But she often meets the world at one of two extremes. Sometimes silent, her expression hidden, taking in the places and people around her. Or else with her feelings completely on her sleeve, cheering at a bite of pie, beaming at a newly-met passerby, calling out when she wants to go somewhere (or even more loudly when she doesn’t).
All that’s missing is Clark W. Griswold getting humorously electrocuted in the background.
So these last few years, I’ve watched both the neighbor lights and the “Missy lights.” Both seem to transform the world around them with just a little effort. And in a landscape of darkened homes, that effort stands out all the more brightly.
Maybe there’s some hope there for all of us.
Meanwhile, it’s time to hit the road. Somewhere out there is a rainbow-colored Rudolph with our name on it. Maybe even literally.
“Look ‘a that!”
I can’t wait.