Houses Dark and Shuttered

Out on errands tonight I noticed how few homes decorated for Christmas this year. Last year at this time, you would know you were in the midst of a town that took Christmas seriously. This year, most of the homes seem dark and shuttered.

Rather than going straight home after shopping I decided to visit some of the neighborhoods I know to be good Christmas decorators, looking for a little Christmas color.

Several families in St. Louis have members who are serving overseas, some in Iraq, others in Afghanistan. There is usually a story in the news once per week or so about another Missouri or Kansas or Iowa or Kentucky youth killed overseas and honored with a military funeral.

One of the neighborhoods on the other side of the Seminary from us is an old established neighborhood, filled for the most part with working families who are moderately comfortable income-wise. Most also have kids and this is a prime incentive to decorate—for the children, if no one else.

But I would go for blocks with at most a small strand of lights around a bush here and there, some lights around the roofs. Passing tree lots along the way, I was surprised at how full they were. A week before Christmas, they should be half empty.

Missouri and Kansas layoff rates have been less in 2003 than in 2002 — only 12 mass layoffs this year compared to 24 mass layoffs last year. The report is that the unemployment claims are down, too.

But then, the joke goes, 50,000 people have left the area in the last year.

I went to the library to re-check out some books I’ve had for a long time — Let Us Now Praise Famous Men among them, and until someone reserves it from the Stacks, I’ll just keep it. It’s not in general circulation anyway, only available to those people who specifically request it. I’m not depriving a casual wanderer through the aisles.

Across the street I was attracted by a bit of bright color. It was the house with the lady that has three dogs, all of whom bark at one when one goes to the library. All of whom sound fierce, but are friendly buggers; except on Friday, which is bath day.

I think I spend a lot of time at the Library.

Today’s newspaper headline read that the President’s approval rating is at a six-month high. This following on weeks of petty, back-handed squabbling among the Democratic candidates that more closely resembles a pack of junk yard dogs fighting over a bone that’s been picked too clean in previous fights.

One block did have three homes, one after the other, quite nicely decorated and I stopped in the street to appreciate the color and the light against the darkness.

In times past, though, the effort on these three homes would barely have rated a second look. This year, they rated a good long stare. When I saw the headlights of another car in my rearview mirror, I reluctantly moved along; then I noticed that the driver of the other car also stopped in front of the three houses.

When I visited my father last week, I asked him what happened with his bird, Mrs. Murgatroid. He didn’t remember ever having a bird, and became confused at the question. I asked my brother about the bird and he said that before Dad moved in with him, he’d let the bird out of the cage and it flew out the door.

Now, he doesn’t remember a bird he had for twenty years. But he does remember me — he calls me Rae. That’s my mother’s name.

My father served in World War II, then as a State Patrolman for twenty years, followed by being an advisor for the military police in Vietnam, and finally an investigator for Welfare fraud. He was injured in war, had best friends killed in the line of duty, and was poisoned by Agent Orange, suffering cancer after cancer — and he doesn’t have enough money to cover the cost of assisted living so he lives with my brother. My brother is afraid to leave him alone because he forgets things, like turning off burners.

I picked up one prescription for my Dad while I was there. It cost $127.00. He has six of these that need filling every month, and his supplemental medical insurance plan was just cancelled because the “Prescription costs were too high”.

Okay, I was now very determined to find some serious Christmas action, so I pulled out the big guns, driving over to Webster Groves. This college town has Money — if they didn’t have a load of lights, no one would.

Lights I found, but they were subdued: mainly some white lights around the eaves, a few around the bushes by the front door. Elegant little expensive wreathes with big red bows covered the doors and everything was tasteful and restrained on the big white houses with the Mercedes and Audi cars out front.

The little kid in me doesn’t like tasteful and restrained. I want gaudy and blinking and mismatched and yes, even cheesy cardboard cutouts in the yard. This is what I grew up with, where we would have a tradition every year of going for a ride to look at the lights and then come home to have cocoa and pretty decorated sugar cookies.

Where are the young and young at heart?

A very big financial corporation with offices in St. Louis sent out a company memo to its employees. ‘Great news’, it read. ‘This year was the best ever for the company!’

The company then gave the employees, those not impacted by the wholesale move of the company’s call center to India, a $50.00 gift certificate to local grocery stores, and a 2% raise for the year.

The Cost of Living increase nationally for 2003 was 3%.

I stopped by the drugstore on the way back home. Coming out, I put a dollar in the bell ringer’s bright red pail.

“I used to know a bell ringer that would get so cold, he’d hold the bell between his teeth”, he said.

I stopped, surprised, because the bell ringers normally only say Thank You and Merry Christmas.

“Yes,” he continued. “I can’t remember his name, but his face sure rings a bell.”

He then gave me a huge smile, winked, and said “Merry Christmas!”

I love the people of this country.

Merry Christmas, and see you when your journey meets up with mine, again, underneath the mistletoe.

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