The other day, my friend Allison posted a comment on Facebook about how the cold weather and the snow made her feel like getting a thermos of coffee and driving around town, looking at Christmas lights. I think that is a splendid idea!
Back when I was a kid, that was a yearly experience, something that had to happen before it was officially Christmas. It seems to me that we typically did it on Christmas eve, though that could be a fuzzy memory. We went with a lot of different people through the years, I dimly recall my mom, brother and I clambering into my grandpa's old green car with him driving and my grandma bundled up next to him, cruising around town pulling myself up to see the lights over the edge of the car door, my breath making the window fog and the lights become ghostly and indistinct.
In later years, it was usually just me and my brother, sitting in the backseat of my mom's yellow Volkswagen Bug. We'd always head for the Christmas light mecca in town, the highland area. Named for the hill it sat upon and the school upon it, Highland was where all of the rich folks live; a lot of them still do, in fact. That's where you'd find the biggest houses and the best displays of Christmas lights, in the highest concentration.
Down in the city you could find the sporadic pockets of light, there was always a house by the DMV that was made up to look like a lit up gingerbread house and the city used to do a pretty impressive display of lights on some of the park's trees. But up Highland, now that was the place to go. Fairway Street specifically. Circling in a meandering, cul de sac kind of way, Fairway looked like the entire Griswold clan had set up shop there and decided to one up each other. Houses decked out with decorated pine trees and lighted mangers, porches covered in nothing but blue or red lights. (This was in the days before color exclusive sets, mind you - most of those die-hards sat down and switched out the bulbs by hand.)
It was like I pictured Santa's elves' houses to look like. People built giant Christmas packages from wood and wire, lighting them from inside so they glowed, they erected metal frameworks and meticulously poured water over it throughout the winter, coating the wire and lights in sheets of glimmering ice.
I don't have a lot of specific memories of the trips, just flickers of thoughts - Eating a thick peppermint stick, sharpening it with my mouth till it was a sword, fighting my brother - Using the Christmas lights to read by, just to prove it could be done - Hot cocoa from a big metal thermos.
One particular memory that stands out was a year that my brother and I went with our cousin Deby Kay, rather than our mom. We rode in my aunt's big white pickup that always smelled like old books and plants. I remember that she played her favorite music while we drove around, instead of the typical Christmas tapes. My brother didn't like the song, some weird one about walking on the moon by a guy called Sting.
Nowadays, Fairway isn't as impressive. A lot of the old-timers have moved or passed on, and the new people are too busy with their lives to put out any wondrous displays. I can't say anything, I don't either, just a couple of sad strings along the porch, but it's sad to think that in a way, the holiday is lessened by it. And I think there's far too much of those silly inflatable figures. They don't have the charm of the old fashioned creations people made, none of the creativity and too much of that annoying fan humming.
However, pockets of wonder still light up the sky in December, and I vow to find something make my eyes sparkle like they used to this year! You bring the coffee and I'll supply the cookies! And maybe a little something stronger to take the chill off ....
We leave tomorrow for Washington, where I'll be performing the ceremony at my friend's wedding. Apart from the drive, we're looking forward to it! I don't know how reliable the internet will be for most of the trip, Leavenworth is reportedly hard to get internet or a cell signal in, so we'll see if I have a chance to update things here!