The two-story Victorian was built in 1889. My parents bought it almost hundred years later, after Dad retired from teaching. Mother had always admired the old house. Dad had a special plan for it, at least for one month of every year.
A born entertainer, he loved to elicit laughter and smiles. He was a vocalist, marimba player, ever ready with a trick or a funny story for young and old.
Dad purchased strings of colored lights, extra bulbs, extension cords and power strips. He drew a schematic to show where the thousands of lights would be positioned and safely plugged in.
The morning after Thanksgiving he started hanging the lights. Mother helped organize dolls from her vast collection. Dad fashioned a star, then climbed up as far as the ladder reached to attach it to the palm tree letting strings of lights flow down its trunk.
After weeks of preparation, last to be placed was Santa. Dad put the ladder on the second floor widow’s porch. Bystanders gasped as he climbed up and secured the big prop to the rooftop.
At 6 pm on the second Saturday of December, Dad flipped the switches and the stately aged house transformed into a kind of fantasyland, alive with color, twinkling lights, wise men seeking Jesus in the big bay window and dolls in every window, ledge, porch and yard. Children squealed with delight when some of the dolls seemed to come to life and when they spotted Santa on the housetop.
But Dad was not finished with his gift to the community. Dressed in a long wool coat and scarf and wearing a top hat, he made his way out the front door and down the steps. He took up mallets in both hands and tapped out Christmas songs on the wood bars of his marimba. No matter the weather he entertained outside for three straight hours. Sometimes he stopped playing to say “Merry Christmas” to those crowded along the fence or delight them with a mechanical monkey from his boyhood.
For many years townspeople and visitors from afar gathered by the thousands to walk the street to view all the houses lit and decorated for the season, to sip apple cider and taste roasted chestnuts, to listen to the carols and pause in silence in front of the nativity scene.
Mother passed away in the morning a few weeks before Christmas one year. By afternoon Dad was out stringing lights. My husband, thinking the loss would take away his desire to tackle the huge project, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll help you.”
“We’ll help you.”
“I’m okay,” he said and proceeded to wrap his house in light. It was his gift of joy, even in sorrow.
Dad was 98 years old when he decorated the house for his last Christmas. As always, he insisted he was the one to put Santa on the roof.
This week I looked at old photos of the house in its holiday glory and thought about Dad. No lights needed on his mansion in heaven. The light of even a billion stars will surely seem dim compared to the light of the glory of God. I can’t imagine it!