Merry and Bright

I gawked. On either side of me, Mom and Quint gawked, too, only they did it more subtly.

The house—mansion, really—in front of us looked like there had been an explosion in a warehouse full of the most gaudy outdoor Christmas decorations you can imagine, and all the debris had gotten plastered to it.

Well, perhaps some of it would’ve looked nice by itself, but thrown together as it was in a hodgepodge of lights, wire-frame reindeer, snowflakes, shooting stars, nutcrackers, and one very creepy, glaring Santa head with his mouth agape….

A large house absolutely covered in different kinds of Christmas lights and decorations

“I think this house and the one across the street are having a war,” said a woman behind me. “This one’s winning.”

“Unless you give points for class,” said her companion.

“I give points for tackiness,” she replied.

Mom was taking her camera out of her purse again. “You two stand in front of that giant Abominable Snowman and I’ll take your picture!”

Quint and I made our way through the crowd until we reached the spot a few yards away. As he wrapped his arm around me, I spoke into his ear. “This’ll make a great Christmas card.”

“Not on your life,” he said, and smiled brightly at my mother’s cue. I snorted.

The tacky house from another angle with a ten-foot-tall Abominable Snowman standing close to the camera

Once she was satisfied with the picture, we offered her our elbows again so we could escort her out of the press of people. I felt a slight shiver run through her.

“You okay, Mom? We don’t have to keep going if you’re getting cold.” It was one of the chilliest nights of December so far. I would’ve suggested rescheduling our outing when I saw the weather, except this was the one night we could count on my father being gone at his private club, giving Mom the opportunity to meet us.

“Nonsense,” she said. “I want to see the rest of this block. It’s supposed to be the best one.”

“Perhaps after this block, we can take you back to your car, Margaret,” said Quint. “It is getting late.”

“Well, I don’t want to keep you boys up,” she said, patting our arms. “I know you have to go all the way back to the city, too. Alright. After this block.”

My lips twitched. Hearing her call Quint a boy never fails to amuse me. “Okay,” I said.

We began walking down the middle of the street, where it was less crowded. A cop car parked across the intersection at the bottom of the hill was keeping traffic from coming through. Apparently these Christmas lights were a bigger deal than I’d thought.

“When did this start, anyway?” I asked. “I don’t remember Dyker Heights doing this when I was a kid.” If they had, I thought I would’ve heard about it. I grew up not far from where we stood.

“Oh, some years ago,” Mom said. “I believe the families in those two houses started it, and it spread from there. Look at the dancers on that lawn! So beautiful.” She stopped us and moved forward on her own to take another picture. I watched with a smile.

A lawn ornament shaped like a dancer in a pink dress twirling on a hexagon box; the lawn and house behind her are covered in Christmas lights

“You look happy, angel,” Quint said softly.

“I am,” I told him. “Since I left home, her and I have never really had a proper Christmas tradition. I think this could be it.”

“That’s a great idea,” he said.

Mom joined us again, and we continued down the hill, marveling at the elaborate displays on all the houses—though none were as over-the-top as the one with the Abominable Snowman. At the end of the block, we were about to turn back when she said, “Wait, they have a nativity scene just around the corner!”

I shrugged helplessly at Quint and followed her.

This house was as large as the others, and very tastefully decorated. The figures in the manger were beautifully cast in resin. I might be agnostic now and celebrate the holiday only secularly, but it brought back comfortable memories of the Catholic Christmases of my past. It looked just like the one the church had year after year. Right down to the fact that the Baby Jesus had yet to be placed in it.

Nativity Scene with Mary, Joseph, an angel, and several animals, but no baby Jesus

“Did someone steal Jesus?” asked a guy with a hipster beard.

“No, dear,” Mom said to him. “He’s not born yet.”

“Ohhhh,” he said.

Someone else was humming The Little Drummer Boy, one of my favorite carols. I couldn’t resist singing along. After a few bars, the hipster joined in with a nice baritone, and a woman I couldn’t see added a slightly-off-key contralto, and soon there was a small group doing the pa rum pum pum pums all together, including my mom.

Quint gave me one of those warm, glowy looks he does sometimes. I leaned against him and swayed with the music.

When it died out, he asked, “Ready to go, Margaret?”

“Yes,” she said. “It is a bit windy now. Thank you both for coming.”

“We wouldn’t have missed it,” I said. “Want to do this next year?”

“That would be wonderful, darling,” she said.

We linked arms and began to walk back up the hill together, and everything around us was merry and bright.

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