Michele Bender photo

Michele Mikesic Bender

Christmas decorating brings out the best and worst in people.

In 1989’s “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Clark Griswold sets a benchmark for outrageous and excessive outdoor trim. Tim “The Toolman” Taylor ruthlessly battles to win a neighborhood holiday competition in “Home Improvement.”

Before the “Roseanne” show fell victim to the star’s ego, viewers enjoyed some memorable episodes. In “White Trash Christmas,” the Connors receive a memo from the neighborhood association politely suggesting guidelines for minimal, conservative décor and insisting on only tasteful white lights.

Dan and Rosie respond by smothering their home and yard with the gaudiest, shabbiest discarded junk available: a three-legged reindeer, blinking candy canes and a wreath made of beer cans. They did restrict themselves to white lights and only 220 amp breakers.

The family assembles outside wearing sunglasses for Dan’s “official lighting ceremony.”

One Christmas, a friend gave me an indoor “Santa” for my back door. Manufactured in a galaxy far, far away, his face was highlighted by button eyes that moved, tumbling in clear plastic casings. “Bela” Clause, Santa “Legosi,” “Psycho Santa,” – within 3 days, I donated him to a charity.

Aunt Sis, Fingerhut’s best customer, once purchased a battery-operated “Silver Bell” that played the first lines of six popular Christmas tunes. When we stopped in to deliver gifts, she said, “Wait! We need atmosphere.”

She clicked the bell on. 

“Jinnn ... gle bellls ... (grind) ... jinn ... gle ... bells ... (scratch) ...” it droned.

“It’s amazing,” Sis observed. 

“Eleven years and it sounds as good as the day I bought it.” 

I locked myself in the bathroom until I stopped laughing.

Silent film comedian Harold Lloyd loved Christmas.

In 1929, he supervised construction of a 44-room mansion in Beverly Hills. He named it “Green Acres.” (I couldn’t make this stuff up!)

It included a special garden room to display Lloyd’s famous, fabulous, year-round Christmas tree. “Tree-zilla,” actually three fire-proofed trees bound together with wires and screws, stood 20 feet high and was 30 feet around; 5,000 baubles sparkled at a cost of $25,000.

I shouldn’t “dis” Harold, because one year my lights stayed up until just before Easter.

The winter of 1993-94 heaped snow, sleet and ice on us relentlessly. We no sooner dug out from one storm when another blasted in.

I usually hung a wreath with white lights on the door, but this year I hankered for color, something with pizzazz.

I purchased a string of 600 multi-colored mini-lights at Big Lots, and decided to wrap them around my lamppost. I could turn them on with the switch by my front door.

Have you ever wrapped 600 mini-lights around a post with an eight-inch circumference? Probably not. You’d remember if you had!

It took my friend Marlene and I one whole Saturday afternoon, much to the amusement of other neighbors. But when we finished, my post twinkled with dense layers of color.

I was lit!

Folks in our neighborhood generally preferred live trees. (I tried that once, and ended up picking needles out of my hardwood floors in July.) Shortly after New Year’s, they appear on the curbs, awaiting trash collection.

On garbage-day eve, Mother Nature dumped 22 inches of snow on us. Borough trucks, plowing the streets, buried the discarded trees. They remained shrouded for three months as the winter-without-end lumbered on.

Attempting to take my lights down, I discovered they had frozen into the ice. Of course, I stopped lighting them.

But then I thought, “Hey! Why not work with it?”

I switched them on for Groundhog’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s Day, both Abe’s and George’s birthdays, and St. Patrick’s Day. 

My last light-up fell, appropriately, on April Fools’ Day.

The April sun worked magic. 

All over the ’hood, perfectly preserved trees surfaced as snow disappeared. I retrieved my lights.

My clever neighbor, Dave, propped his up and decorated it with Easter grass and plastic eggs. I took a picture of it and presented it to him, labeled “Dave’s Multi-Purpose Tree, Dec ’93- April ’94.”

It seemed a fitting end to a long, decorative season.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at MsGeezerette@aol.com.

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