I don’t have my outdoor lights up. A few years I missed getting them out completely. It depends on the weather and what comes up. I’m not too concerned though. As a kid I more than made up for any seasonal deficiencies now. Mother was a real decorator. In the weeks before Christmas I knew I had to stay in motion or end up flocked or tinseled. Spend too much time (or worse doze off) on the nylon frizze sofa and I’d be sure to have Happy New Year or Jingle Bells stenciled on me somewhere. Mom was a relentless decorator. When I was little mom (who had dad very well trained) kept me believing in Santa by doing ALL the decorating after I’d gone to sleep so I’d wake to a “miracle” of glittering tree and bubbling lights. (I still have the original Noma Bubble Lights.) I’d be wowed; the entire thing reinforced by the wonderful smell of real pine resin coming from the glowing tree with angel topper. My parents kept me guessing on the Santa topic until I was near ten when the combination of reason and sleuthing showed me the truth.

As a kid I thought a Christmas present was something in a box under the tree. I was suitably thankful for colorfully wrapped new shirts or the educational and “Council” approved games, but in truth I felt a real present had to be something fun; not practical. Do I need say I was often disappointed? In fact, I thought we were poor because I got so many dull and practical gifts. I wasn’t the sort of boy to shine over a new pair of pants or sweater. Plus mom and dad sometimes threw curves at me by confusing fun and practicality as in the Christmas my biggest gift was a Hop-Along Cassidy bed spread. At the time I was a Hoppy fan, so that was fun, but how could I take that thing out to play with? At the time the bedspread was a real challenge as a class of present. Being a lot older I see presents differently. The best gift was mom and dad doing all that decorating to wow me when I woke. That was a present.

Once I dropped belief in Santa I was then useful to help with the decorating and that’s when things escalated to the point of dad moaning over the light bill from all the energy eating bulbs strung inside and out. In that era we had some of the first sets of large, lighted, outdoor candles. I don’t mean the translucent things you see today. Back then the candle base weighed near 20 pounds. Those babies weren’t going to blow over. The bulb part was a special thing shaped like a candle flame. We had trouble keeping those, but all things considered those candles gave a good ten years service. I don’t think the modern ones do as well.

I was reminded of the outdoor lights the other night when I saw a Laker near shore. You always know there’s a stiff wind out of the north when the bulk carriers start to hug to shore in search of less turbulent water. The lit up ship reminded me of the Christmas lights I hadn’t put up. Well, it was too dark and windy to start then, not to mention that the power went out and stayed off for four or five hours. I like it when Mother Nature gives a good excuse for not getting something done, and frankly going up and down the ladder with lights isn’t a high. I had my fill of outdoor lighting as a kid. I wasn’t surprised when mom and dad gave up on outdoor decoration. When I was gone to college and not there to take the frostbite that came with light hanging the venture was doomed. My parents donated the outdoor lights to our church. A corner of the basement stood suddenly vacant. The church used some of the lights, not all. Dad must have warned our Priest about the light bill.

My view of the Holidays and of presents has changed with time and age. Last week I had to do some business on the Range. The drive there from the Shore brought lots of memories of repeated family migrations to Hovland. On one weekend trip this time of year we were accompanied by friends from Hoyt Lakes. On the return dad, always game for a shortcut, took the old Tomahawk Road outside Babbitt. Once committed there was no turning back because of slushy snow. No, we bulled forward and would get stuck. That’s when the friend from school I invited got to get out along with me to push our car and then his through the bad spots. In that situation wearing sneakers is the same as barefoot. I didn’t believe feet could hurt that much. Our friendship was weaker after that and the other family never ventured with us again.

After my business was done I stopped to visit some friends. Bev’s older than I am. Neither of us travels as much as we used to. She told me it had been five years since my last visit. It must have been because there were five Christmas boxes waiting for me. That’s a method of counting good as any calendar. The visit wasn’t long. I needed to avoid night driving. But though short I was reminded of what’s important, which isn’t, wasn’t, and never will be the contents of a box. Shortly after that I got a call from another friend not seen for as long. I used to work with his grandfather and continue to admire and value him to this day. It’ll be very nice to visit a while. The really good presents don’t come in boxes. They are the gifts of person and being we are given and hopefully give in return. Merry Christmas and Peace On Earth!