This leads us to the Decoration Lady and her favorite holiday: The Fourth of July.
As of this minute, an oversized, glitzy American flag comprised of two million or so tiny red, white and blue lights casts a glimmering glow across my living room ceiling when I turn my lights out for the night.
Granted, the suburban block where I live features neighbors who offer quite an array of creative individual expression. You’ll find everything from the 24/7 Table Saw Lunatic to my favorite neighbor, the Decoration Lady, who lives next door.
This gifted woman is widely renowned, a fact which translates into instant recognition when people find out where my home is located.
“Oh, do you live on the block where that one house is always decorated?” inquired a petite elderly woman at the corner store. I knew immediately that she was not referring to my residence, but to the Decoration Lady’s mini-palace.
“Yes, I live on that block.” I offered her my standard response.
“You’re lucky,” she continued with a faraway, glazed look in her eyes. “I wish I lived near a place like that.”
No, she doesn’t. She only thinks she does. Because she doesn’t know what it’s like to hear your children cry in the middle of the night, frightened by the oversized bright red Valentine hearts pulsating on and off, on and off, casting a dizzying glare through their bedroom windows. But the Fourth of July is worse.
“Mom, I can’t sleep because the red, white and blue lights are keeping me awake,” my 10-year-old daughter complained from the top of the steps the other night.
“Close your blinds and draw the curtains closed,” I advised tiredly.
“I did and it’s still really bright in here,” she replied.
I sighed, and toyed with the thought of letting her sleep in my room, but it occurred to me that my room was even worse. “Maybe she’ll turn off the lights later,” I told her with a hefty dose of false optimism.
My daughter sighed audibly. “She never turns her lights off at night,” she retorted.
She was speaking the truth, and I knew it. I closed my eyes tiredly, remembering one brisk October evening when a guest from another state was visiting my house. We had gone out to dinner and returned to my modest Cape Cod home after dark. As we pulled into my driveway, she chuckled. I asked what was so funny.
“Your neighbor’s a little early with her Christmas lights,” she remarked wryly.
“No she’s not. That’s her Halloween light show,” I explained. Several years ago the Decoration Lady started lighting up the autumn nights with only orange and black lights, but expanded to a six-color illumination system last year. That’s when she added white, blue, green and purple.
My friend regarded me suspiciously and asked, “Since when does Halloween have this many colors?”
“My best guess, since I’ve had lots of time to stew on the topic, is that the green represents a sort of monster color, and purple is the color of Dracula’s cape, right?”
She looked confused at my explanation. “No, Dracula’s cape is black. We’ll let the green go, but your neighbor is out of line. Purple is an Easter color and has nothing to do with Halloween.”
As we entered my unassuming residence, we continued to debate purple’s relevance to Halloween and Easter.
This is exactly why I appreciate the Decoration Lady’s untiring efforts. Thanks to her, there’s always something new to talk about. Except in the heat of the night in early July, when everybody in my household is too tired to discuss much of anything. That’s because we don’t get enough shut eye because nobody gets to retire for the night in darkness.
In late July when no national holidays are underway, the Decoration Lady does a scary thing. She opens her double-wide garage doors and moves her extensive collection of decorations outside, positioning them across her velvety green lawn for cleaning and restoration purposes.
Call me a prude, but I find something alarming about seeing a trio of live-size plastic toy soldiers standing sentry near the side entrance to my house on a sunny summer afternoon. During this summertime ritual, I’ve logged numerous sightings: A pair of smiling Pilgrims, 47 American Flags of various sizes, two dozen reindeer, 97 colorful wind socks, three hefty plastic turkeys, and a partridge in a pear tree.
After she is done scrubbing and vacuuming the garage, she scours off her precious decorations and returns them to their assigned places in the garage. Then she vacuums the lawn.
Subdivision folklore has it that late at night these life-sized Santas, Pilgrims, and toy soldiers come to life and chase the turkeys down. We’re pretty sure there used to be five or six of these non-appetizing gobblers.
One disappointing thing about the Decoration Lady is that she lacks imagination when it comes to some of the less-decoratable holidays like Memorial Day. She could contemplate investing in some toy tanks and guns, then construct little grave markers out of styrofoam and spray paint them gray to offer the full effect. Lord knows she has enough flags in various shapes and sizes to gracefully pull this one off.
Sometimes I worry about Decoration Lady. You can really get to know a person through the paraphernalia they display year after illuminated year. For instance, why does she garnish her home’s exterior with gigantic bows for Mother’s Day, yet she doesn’t acknowledge Father’s Day? Could this be a sign of repressed childhood anxieties which could lead to problems down the road with oh say, acute decoratitis and too many lights on Valentine’s Day, Halloween and the Fourth of July?
Another national holiday the Decoration Lady has turned her back on is Labor Day. This is sad because there’s so much she could do with this one! What about erecting a statue of Jimmy Hoffa next to her 500-foot flagpole? Or she could even build a unique hanging mobile displaying various hats of American laborers – a hard hat, a green beret, baseball cap, policeman’s hat, and even a broad-brimmed straw hat. She could then dangle this
hat-tastic masterpiece from her sparkling picture window to offer students returning to school food for thought.
All kidding aside, living near a glorious woman like this is a truly a blessing in disguise, I think. It makes life easier on many different levels:
1. It provides an easily recognizable landmark for people trying to find my house.
2. We save $$ – No nightlights needed for the children’s bedrooms. Ever. Except Father’s day.
3. We receive immediate extra recognition by living near a neighborhood celebrity.
4. Increased property value, until new homeowners realize that they will need to learn how to live under sleep-deprived conditions.
On the flip side of the coin, there are several minor disadvantages:
1. Increased traffic flow. People mistakenly drive past looking for the restaurant they think is here.
2. Out-of-town visitors may become holiday-disoriented and confuse Halloween and Christmas.
3. Emergency vehicles – It’s only happened a few times, but occasionally jet pilots have attempted to land on her roof due to excessive lighting around the eaves of her house.
Ultimately, society does benefit from the beautiful touches provided by folks like the Decoration Lady and her flamboyantly illuminated flag display on the Fourth of July. Because in the end, neighbors like her make themselves and everyone near them look good.
And even though my children and I have learned to sleep wearing blinders, we bask in the brightly-lit magnificence of the Fourth of July whether we like it or not.