I have determined that my life parallels the world of a gentleman known as Clark Griswold. Here’s the proof: I have an extremely big heart, and I love people, but I’ve also made some colossal bumble-headed moves in life. I’m a sucker for expectations of major holidays and events. My life revolves around family, I dream for big things to come (which often don’t) and there have been times when the gift that keeps on giving, an enrollment in the Jelly-Of-The-Month Club, would have been a bigger Christmas bonus than I got from my employer. I certainly have a cousin or two from Kansas, and one of them probably has an RV. And I engage in the art form known as putting up Christmas lights.
At about this time each year, generally Thanksgiving weekend, I venture forth into my kingdom—with new hopes and aspirations—and into the not-so-native brush, trees and shrubbery that surrounds my house, armed only with a staple gun, several thousand lights, a few plastic inflatables, some stakes, and some rope. The rope might be used to stabilize my inflatable Christmas displays to withstand our cool 50 mph Kansas winter breezes, or in case of any general failures of lights not working or connecting correctly throughout the yard, I could just hang myself. It hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but it can be frustrating. I test the lights before I put each strand out, but between my testing area and the nearest tree, they sometimes just give out.
I have abandoned ship on climbing up to the peak of the roof of my home. I had physics in high school and a 6’ 5”, 300 pound man, on a steep incline could generate as much reasonable force a charging elephant, as he quickly slides off the roof. The heights now appear to be akin to standing on an icy bridge (like another favorite movie of mine in which a smaller town banker faces some serious tests, and contemplates ending it all). But it’s a wonderful life, and I’m not ready to perish as a shingle slips beneath my feet and I plunge over the edge, to certain death. No one would probably find me for a while, and that would be awkward, too.
Some of my yard lights have remote controls. I can sit in the living room, hit the button and make them do different patterns, although I haven’t got them to spell anything yet. One year, I had them all on a remote control, and I could kill them as I saw a car approaching from several blocks away— and then hit the button and really kind of mess with cars passing by. “Matilda, didn’t that house have lights on a while ago?” BAM.
I do have a rule on lights—anything that sits, walks or attempts to cross the perimeter of my yard is fair for game to staple lights upon— creating somewhat of a living display. (jes kiddin wid ya). But I do enjoy Christmas lights and the joy they bring to passersby, to our neighbor kids, and the signal they give my grown-up kids as they return to Salina from points East and West that, “You are home. Welcome. We love you, and we miss you daily. We’ve left the lights on for you. This is not Motel 6.” And with the number of lights we put up—there’s generally no mistaking which house is ours.
There are certain areas of Salina that do an incredible job with lights, and some houses that I head towards each year during the holidays to enjoy the work people have put into their displays. The Red Fox Lane area is always beautiful, as the lights reflect across the ponds they have in that subdivision. The Georgetown Santas are always a hoot on Georgetown Road in east Salina—a group of neighbor men give Santa a little help during one week in December and take to the street handing out candy, and treats—in their Santa suits. Some areas like River Place on East Iron, coordinate all their lights in blue and that’s a pretty sight. When neighbors work together like that, it would seem that they have a lot of pride in ownership in their homes. Maybe they even know each other. Drs. Cole and Cooper have a fun Christmas display every year at their business on South Ohio—and there are lots of other inspirational efforts throughout our city. Even downtown Salina gives it a shot.
Christmas lights are welcoming and fun. As I put up my Christmas lights this year, I’ll be thinking of potential ways to make my light display visible from outer space—that’s the ultimate goal for a Christmas light guy. But at the same time, I’d like to think that each little light represents a twinkle of hope, for each of us—as we head into the New Year. And further, that my lights, like a star in the sky so long ago, mark the birth of a child who came to save us all—a child who grew and gave his life for us all, two thousand years ago.
I believe in the season. I believe in the reason for the season. And I believe that each of us carries a spark within us, to do wonderful things. Get out there and make a difference, and let your light shine this year.
Tom Wilbur is President/CEO of BANK VI in Salina. He is a lifelong resident of Salina, and has been a regular editorial contributor to newspapers and magazines, and a public speaker. He has been known to answer to the terms “Hey there!” or “Hi, Clark!” He is a graduate of Salina Central High School and the University of Kansas. Special thanks to Brooke and Landon for helping this old man with his lights this year. Tom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.