"Come on, Mom!" The girls groaned in unison. My nine-year old, Lacey, chagrined, “You’re always the last one ready!”
I grunted as I drove my heel into my boot. "I see," I huffed, "I wonder what I've been doing for the last 15 minutes instead of getting ready."
Jordan, my five-year old, shouted, "You been getting US ready, Mama!" I smiled at Lacey as I tossed a scarf around my neck, zipped my coat, and pulled on gloves like it was an art.
"Okay, okay," she resigned with a laugh.
My husband, Mike, opened the door and we all shuffled out onto the porch. Instantly, we stopped in a breathless moment. Although we had lived here and witnessed this sight for seven Decembers, the beauty and wonder of ten thousand lights illuminating the dark winter sky was enough to make you cry. The "ooh's" and "ahh's" from my girls confirmed they appreciated it, too. Mike squeezed my hand, and we carefully maneuvered our way down the snowy steps for the neighborhood’s traditional "Walk of the First Lights Night." Many of our neighbors were also out, taking in the magnificence.
Though entranced by the massive glow of Christmas lights around me, I couldn’t help but notice the one dark and somber house on the street. Every window wore shades of isolation. It was Mrs. Talbot’s house. I knew she was home, seeing her shadow cross a window. My curiosity piqued as I wondered the story of old, Mrs. Talbot.
"That woman is ruining it for all of us," a crotchety voice came from behind. It was James, one of our more cynical neighbors. "Mrs. Tizbit, or whatever her name is, her dark house sticks out like a missing tooth. It's an eye sore! She doesn't belong here, you know? She's like a kink in a perfect chain…a black hole in a white blanket… a --"
I wanted to smack him, but that wouldn’t have been very Christian-like. Fortunately, he departed, along with his contemptuous words. Still, no one could deny the gloominess about her house that broke the flow of our radiant neighborhood. My thoughts were interrupted when Jordan pulled on my coat. "Why doesn't she ever have lights, Mama?"
"We're supposed to leave her alone, Jo," Lacey said, as if by instruction. But certainly not from me.
"Who told you that?" Mike asked.
"I don't know," Lacey shrugged. "I just notice that's what everyone does. They leave her alone."
I realized then that though several neighbors had plenty to say about Mrs. Talbot, no one ever bothered to grace the doorstep of her world; admittedly, myself included. In fact, I'd only seen Mrs. Talbot a few times, as she seemed to purposely exist alone in her bleak little refuge. I decided right then that I would change that.
"Let's go knock on her door," I urged, looking mostly to Mike for agreement.
"Right now?" He scrunched his face with uncertainty.
"No time like the present, right?" I smiled. "Come on. Come on, girls. We're going to meet Mrs. Talbot."
"Meet her??" Lacey sparked. "Yeah! Let’s go!"
"Yay!" Jordan chimed.
I heard gasps from disapproving neighbors as we opened the gate to her walkway and journeyed towards her door.
Jordan stalled. “It’s really dark, Mama. I wanna go home.”
I picked her up and set her on my hip. “It’s alright, baby,” I smiled reassuringly.
After a couple unanswered knocks, however, it seemed our effort was wasted. We turned to go when we heard the door unlock. Opening just a few inches, Mrs. Talbot spoke apprehensively. “Yes? What do you want?”
Suddenly I felt my throat go dry and nothing would come out. We all stood there in an uncomfortable silence when Jordan belted out, “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Tizbit!” I closed my eyes in embarrassment. So much for first impressions.
Then I realized Mrs. Talbot was laughing. Mike and I exchanged a look of surprise as the door opened more to reveal our reticent neighbor.
“I haven’t been called that since my teaching years,” she said. “What a refreshing memory.” She became pensive then, and sighed deeply, “Forgive me. It’s just that… I’ve mostly forgotten about living since my Frank passed away. It’s the first time I’ve laughed in six years. You’re the… Hendersons? Next door?”
I nodded, and she smiled. “Please… Uh… Won’t you come in? Out of the cold?” Mrs. Talbot opened her door wide and began turning on the lights.
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