Deck the hall with boughs of holly, tra la la la la la,” I sang merrily, if not horribly off key while I watched the help I hired decorate my yard. I had spared no expense on tasteful yard ornaments to alert thieves that there was a possibility of a good haul at this address. Of course that meant the neighborhood crime patrol would have to be even more on the ball till this joyful season came to an end and society had to pay for their mistakes..er…purchases.
When the last light was hung and I turned on the electrical juice there were aw’s and oh’s from family and neighbors. It was only fair they showered my endeavors with compliments, after all, hadn’t I lavished praise on them for their tastefully elegant projects even though mine was far more superior. Lots of home owners registered with a fifty dollar entrance fee to be illegible for the jackpot and I was sure to win the prize this year and not just because I had donated to several of the judges favorite charities, (themselves), but because I had hired an extremely talented college student, majoring in landscaping, to do the manual labor. I checked the bylaws, professional help was forbidden, nothing was said about contributing to a student’s education, a minor over sight I’m sure would appear as an amendment to the rules for next year!
With the external Christmas decorating done I was able to participate in the nightly caroling and scrutinize the other houses in the friendly neighborhood (cut throat) contest, some of which would offer some stiff competition if I hadn't bribed the judges and was assured of winning, unless...No. No one else would dare to out bribe me! That would be so unethical!
Up the street where I drove to meet up with the traveling singers a crowd was gathering beside a corner lot. Hmmm. I pulled over to investigate and nearly slammed into some parked cars. My central nervous system was sending messages to my stomach that said, “Give it all up, baby”. Luckily I hadn't had much to eat yet, just some cookies, punch, hot chocolate, spinach dip, little party wieners, cheese, crackers, carrot cake, layered Mexican bean dip, Fritos, and rolls with barbequed brisket served at my work’s Christmas party. What? That was just a light snack!
I joined my friends on the yard across the street amazed at the grumbling being done by even some of my nicer buddies, the ones who had suggested the contest for the prettiest yard; the friends whose main mantra always was, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, lie!”
“I just can’t believe anyone could be this substandard on purpose, it’s as though they’re mocking us!” Ester said, shaking her head and tsking, arms crossed firmly against her chest.
“Has anyone talked to the owner?” I asked, “Maybe their yard was vandalized.” It actually looked like someone had taken trash from the city dump and plunked it down here. Tinsel trees of all shapes and hues were planted around the yard with even more different colored tinsel sprinkled on them , half blown up Christmas props and stuffed animals with unevenly tied ribbons and large candy canes were seated about, asymmetrical handmade signs sloppily painted with “support our troops” were leaning against the house walls and bushes, lights were draped on the playground equipment, a large stuffed bear was dressed in army fatigues holding a flag, card board boxes wrapped with old torn wrapping paper were placed disproportionately around the yard. Nothing was balanced or pleasing to the eye, except for maybe the Grinch’s, who would have appreciated this slap in the face to our Christmas spirit.
What was the “support our troops” stuff about? This is Christmas, a time of cheer and good will, let’s not take away from the King and turn this into a political crusade. We hear about the war in the Middle East daily on the news, Christmas is a time to unwind and celebrate Jesus, to forget about things that upset us, like this yard is doing on a grand scale!
“Here comes Meredith now,” Ester announced.
Meredith recrossed the street without even checking for cars, getting hit and being knocked unconscious was her only hope of erasing the ghastly image that we were all facing.
“Well, I couldn’t get the mother to come down stairs and talk to me,” Meredith said. “Some half starved, unwashed looking kids answered the door and said their mom has been up stairs in bed for days. She’s probably been on a drinking binge no doubt, that’s also probably why the yard looks like this. Poor kids, obviously only a drunk could decorate this way.”
The critical assembly just clucked their tongues in disgust and commenced planning a reprisal. We wouldn’t let some inconsiderate fool crush our neighborhood’s Christmas beatification venture.
Well needless to say the next few days were spent organizing a petition to deliver to the home owner asking her to disassemble her yard. Maybe we could shame her into cleaning up her act before the judging commenced. There was even a thinly veiled threat to contact child protective services. Now wouldn’t that be a lovely gift for the kids, three daily meals, baths and clean home? We also thoughtfully slipped in a card for Alcoholics Anonymous, after all it was the Christmas season and we should be supportive.
We were all at Meredith’s one night putting the final touches on the petition when her doorbell rang introducing a well dressed lady come to pay a visit, or maybe add her name to the petition. Meredith, after a short indistinct conversation with the newly arrived visitor ushered her to the headquarters of the Public Flogging Committee, (oh wouldn’t the puritans have been proud of us), where we had all been whispering among ourselves wondering if it was another prospective petition signer.
“This lady is the mother in law of our..of the drunk…of the ,” Meredith attempted to introduce the stranger, her face was red and flushed (hot flashes have no mercy), but all she could do was stutter and gesture aimlessly. What had gone wrong? Had this lady threatened Meredith somehow? Had the enemy’s camp sent reinforcements? This lady was apparently well to do judging from her crisp clothes, Prada shoes and Dooney Burke handbag, (probably garage sale finds!)
“Allow me,” Stanger requested, “I’m Silvia Martinez, and my son was married to Dorothy.” Was married, oh they got divorced so maybe this woman did want in on the petition. “I mean he is married…well I mean… he was killed last week in Afghanistan in a suicide bombing, you see he was stationed there in the army, his third tour, he was in the reserves and they called….” Stranger broke down completely, mascara blending in with the blush on her cheeks making train tracks. “And poor Dorothy has gone into such a depression the kids attempted to cheer her up by decorating the yard themselves hoping to get their mother back. I just don’t know what to do if….I’ve come back to town to try to help and I heard about this petition…” By now we had all jumped up from the table, retracted our claws and were in a group hug with Silvia as the centerpiece, crying and listening to the ordeal she’d been through and of poor retched Dorothy’s solitary suffering, offering condolences and suggestions.
Sometime after Silvia had left we all sat around a box of Kleenex and an overflowing trash receptacle blame throwing. How could we have let Satan harden our hearts so? Boy were we mad at him, after all, he was responsible for our unchristian behavior. Never underestimate the power of guilt because now the mission of our Public Flogging committee changed tracks from putting Dorothy in the stockade to providing neighborly assistance. The petition sat on the table in front of us like a bowl of Ebola germs we didn't want to touch. We tapped our manicured nails nervously and guiltily on the table top filled with remorse at acting so quickly without knowing all the facts. Apparently I had a heart after all, go figure.
We had only assumed we were wrapping things up at Meredith's that night. We divided the names up from the soul poisoning petition and one by one called and scratched through each name and replaced the names on a list with volunteers for child care, counseling, and food delivery to the Atrocious yard's residents. And finally we ripped the petition into so many little pieces all the kings men and all the kings horses wouldn’t be able to repair it.
The contest night finally arrived and judges rode through the neighborhood inspecting everyone's creative art work and displays. They acted noticeably pressed to come up with a winner, drumming their fingers against their temples. I played dumb knowing i had the prize in the bag, knowing days ago who the winner would be; after all I passed the big bills under the table!
The neighborhood and the contestants gathered at the corner park to consume unlawful amounts of refreshments and hear the judge’s verdict. I had no difficulty being over confident and lots of difficulty concealing my confidence. I could hardly wait for the winners name to be announced. Third and second place were announced first and the recipients of those spots acted graciously grateful. What an act, I know one of them is the worst looser ever to walk the earth and will be found somewhere tomorrow revealing opinions of a fixed contest, a holiday conspiracy, well I can’t condemn her, she’d be right.
And now….drum roll please….the winner is …..The owner of the atrocious yard! What a miracle, they hadn’t even entered the contest! A deafening cheer went up throughout the park as everyone hooted and hollered agreement; not many were surprised having received late night or early morning phone calls from the Reformed Members of the Public Flogging Committee. Some neighbors, scattered throughout the throng who hadn’t been in the loo,p started to protest till someone nearby who’d been in the know whispered (loudly over the din) the explanation to them causing them to join in the jubilation. Even second and third place seemed pleased with the judge’s decree. I know I was.
The judges had taken my bribes and added it to the pot for Dorothy at my request (and I had only implied I would publically repent of my crime, a crime that would ruin their honest reputations!) We had all decided the night of Silvia’s visit that this was the best gift of all to the Christ child, to honor the efforts of the emotionally crippled children who had tried to revive their mother while honoring their father. It certainly wouldn’t make up for the loss of a husband and father but what better way to support our troops and those left behind. We all gathered together with candles in hand to parade over to Dorothy’s house and surprise her with Christmas gifts for the children, food for Christmas dinner and a whopping $5000; and loads of offers of friendship and support.
Meanwhile up on the other side of the rainbow a young man who had sacrificed his life for freedom had been squatting to look downward so he could follow his family’s progress through the cycle of grief. Satisfied they would recover he stood at attention and joined other solders in formation, soldiers representing all armed forces, soldiers out of uniform because they were wearing crowns instead of helmets. The eclectic troop proceeded to march in precise military fashion towards a throne of enormous proportions bathed in such brilliant light that they couldn’t see the occupant. They halted at the foot of the throne in front of another young man who had sacrificed his life for the whole world to have freedom from sin and peace with God. The soldiers saluted, reporting from duty, not for duty and tossed their crowns into the air to land at the feet of the king, their job done and their lives beginning.
So much for separating Christmas from any political crusade! 12/24/09 by collette Delete