Bum lights fail to lighten the season

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/20/19

It’s the classic Christmas decorating conundrum, beyond cliche but enshrined perfectly for posterity in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold labors to …

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Bum lights fail to lighten the season

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It’s the classic Christmas decorating conundrum, beyond cliche but enshrined perfectly for posterity in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold labors to festoon the exterior of his house for the holidays only to realize, after all his troubles, the mood-deflating moment when the lights don’t light.

It happened to me, too; a couple of weeks ago after I spent an hour or so hanging stands of light along the edge of our roof.

As outdoor holiday lighting goes (it’s a phenomenon distinct enough to have spawned a television show, “The Great Christmas Light Fight”) ours is modest. Just a strand of white lights we string, with those little plastic hook hangers that slide under the shingles, along the roof of the front of our house; but it looks festive and I always look forward to the tradition.

Last year, our string of white lights had worked fine and were still in proper working order when I took them down post-season and placed them in their large plastic container and back in the attic, where they summer.

I’m no fool (most of the time) and before I spent hours Clark Griswold-style going up and down a ladder putting the lights back up for the 2019 season, I exercised simple due diligence, plugging in the connected strands to an electrical outlet to confirm — voila! — that the lights worked. And they did.

Still, I tempered my expectations because Christmas lights work — and don’t work — in mysterious ways. They run a tad temperamental.

So even though the lights were all systems go when I’d plugged them in before taking on the task of hanging them, I inhaled deeply — and probably should have crossed my fingers, too, come to think of it — when I faced the moment of truth and plugged the lights in.

The moment of truth revealed that in the course of the hour it took me to hang them (handling them, by the way, as gently as possible) the stand had morphed from all systems go to three large light-less gaps.

Lights that don’t light are one thing. Determining the reason they don’t light is even more anxiety-inducing.

A cursory check of my work revealed that in hanging them I’d busted one bulb (I blame the ladder), accounting for one of the three gaps in lighting.

Checking the other two gaps, I could find no obvious reasons for the outage. No busted or missing bulbs.

But since I couldn’t find — and I scoured the attic looking, wasting another hour — any replacement bulbs, I was feeling defeated. And I lacked motivation to retrieve the big ladder and begin the chore of troubleshooting the cause.

My wife tried to ease my mind, telling me after judging the results from the curb and taking in the totality of my work, that it looked OK. The gaps were at least somewhat symmetrical, she observed. The gap on the left side matched the gap on the right, sort of. And the one in the middle was, well, in the middle. It almost looked planned.

As much as I would have loved to embrace that line of reasoning, though, I couldn’t.

The lights still remain in place where I strung them a couple of weeks ago — I like the way they reflect sunlight during the daytime — but at night we’ve not bothered to turn them on.

It wasn’t the best way to launch the holiday season.

And in the days since, I’ve found myself trying to fend off the blues during these holidays. It has, really, nothing to do with the defective lights. I’m not that sensitive and I can handle a setback. But it didn’t help.

The holidays are a tough season sometimes and this year has underscored that reality. In the last few days, with the happy holiday season in full swing around me, three friends have lost loved ones. While many celebrate the season, they’re grieving.

And I can’t help, though I try not to dwell on it, but link the holidays to memories of the death of my father, who died a few days shy of Christmas in 1992.

For many people, for many reasons, the holidays are a struggle and the struggle, as they say, is real.

Maybe that’s why my Christmas lights fiasco — a failed attempt at bringing more light to the season — brought me down as it did.

Lots of Christmas music, even, acknowledges the dichotomy of this time of year.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” the song tells us, “if the fates allow.”


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