Winter finally arrived this last week. The arctic front raced across the brown grasslands and corn stubble of eastern South Dakota, the sparse barbed wire doing it's best to slow it down when it could, but the slight whistle of warning to zip up and put on a hat and gloves was about all it could do to contribute. So people zipped up their parkas and jackets, found their hats and gloves in the back of their closets... the arduous hunt for the pair. At first they just carry them with them... the Norwegian self-denial that it's really this cold. The German stubbornness holding onto their pride of being able to handle the cold. The realists having already been wearing hats and gloves weeks ago when the temperatures was in the 40's.
But this was the big dip into the single digits... the deep freeze... the cold blast... the big chill. This wasn't the "one or two days of chilly weather followed by another warmup". We were lucky to have the warmest October and November as we did in a long time. But everyone around these parts are realists. They know that there would ultimately be a price to pay.
People had been able to get more Christmas decorations up. Even the people that normally didn't get them up... the people that usually counted on the weather to bust in and say "don't bother". But that interruption didn't happen this year. They had no excuse.
Everyone's LED lights pop vividly in the darkness now. Most people, who in the past only put up one or two strands of lights along their gutter and around the small pine tree in their front yard, using a limitation of voltage and wanting to save power kept their extension cord usage at a minimum so anyone that managed to display more than four strands was worthy of driving by during the Christmas season.
Years ago, in the early 90's, Shannon Nordstrom and Brad Hoven, while living in the 1950's bungalow down just west of Hillestad's place, decided to pull a Clark Griswald and put up as many lights as they could. They bought out all the lights at the True Value in Brandon and proceeded to staple the lights along every horizontal board of their siding. Just past halfway up they needed to go get more lights and more extension cords as they were stretching the limits of the breakers that they were using. Luckily Brad has a bit of background with electrical so they are able to set up some sort of river of extension cords from the back to the front of the house and to help continue the stringing up of the lights.
Fighting the burned-out bulbs became a constant battle as whole strands would go out and they'd pounce on the strand in Emergency room fashion trying to find the ONE bad bulb.
That "ginger-bread"-looking house became quite an attraction that winter. Many people drove by multiple times, most likely shaking their heads that they'd want to waste that much electricity just to make a house look so festive. Most agreed, though, that it did look pretty cool. The neighbors were probably glad once the holiday season was through and the main plugs were pulled... both because of traffic and because of the lumins.
Our house growing up was very sparsely lit. We had a nice 8 foot pine tree right outside the front door that was perfect for a few strands of bulbs. and then directly to the east of it was a nice pine bush that we'd lay a few strands across it too. The house was too tall and big to try to run strands of bulbs along the edges.... or, at least that was our excuse. Don't get me wrong, we fully decorated INSIDE the house, but the outside was minimal. Inside we had boxes and boxes of decorations. I don't remember the exact day that we'd decorate traditionally, but it was always a big ordeal.
We always had an artificial tree. It always seemed perfect to me. In hindsight, looking at the pictures of it, it wasn't that great of a tree, but it was OUR tree. I remember more than once, that as we'd decorate, it was the night that the Charlie Brown Special was on tv or maybe the Frosty Special. So it was probably always on Thanksgiving weekend. Almost all of my memories in the house in the winter had the fireplace with a fire in it. We must've had (and I know we did because I helped stack it year after year) a ton of firewood. The process of stacking wood and having it "on the ready" constantly was the task of us boys and worthy of it's own whole chapter.
In the meantime, we'll conclude this one as it rolls into the holiday week, the cold snap getting colder... one snow system passed through and another on the horizon. The forecast doesn't look better for the week and my cold Norwegian toes are ready for some hibernating.
One observation though as I sit here and look back more and more on the holidays now as an adult. It seems that Christmas as a child took forever to arrive. Now as an adult though, it goes by too quickly. We spend all day working, then trying to get shopping done, decorations done, concerts to go to, normal everyday living to live... before we know it, Christmas is here and Christmas is gone. Oh, we enjoy it, but it's not the same. It's a blur of moments highlighted by a few glittering ornaments of children's smiles and family fun. It's thinking back to all those holidays when Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandma and Uncle Rolly were there with us, taking turns opening gifts, nibbling on treats, throwing another log on the fire.... and thinking that it would always be like that. I guess as long as it's in my heart and mind, it always will be.
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I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.