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He May Not Know He Made Me Smile Every Year, but He Did

If you had ever driven past the house during the holidays, you would have remembered it. The house wasn't notable because of the quantity of lights adorning its exterior or because their placement was particularly attractive. It wasn't even the kind of lights display that you would tell people you had seen. Rather, it was . . . eccentric.

You would have noticed the giant stuffed Santa wrapped in a cocoon of weather-proofing plastic. You would have noticed the plywood sleigh holding the fat guy that could have easily passed as a half-assed treehouse. You certainly would have taken note of the awkward homemade lit reindeer. Given enough time, you might have figured out that what was "off" about them was that they had long tails like a German Shepherd. Once you noticed that, you would have debated whether they actually were deer, or if those were giant dogs lined up and pulling the treehouse/sleigh.

You would have tried to figure out the reasoning for the placement of the strings of icicle lights. Some of the strands were all white, some were a rainbow of colors, but all hung in seemingly random ways. They were strewn at an oddly low yet high height in the tree branches. Other strands had been used to create a curtain of light surrounding the perimeter of the yard. No matter how many times you drove past the house, you never would have found any logic in the glowing orbs.

The first few times I drove past the house, I laughed at the tacky display of Christmas cheer. I openly mocked the insanity of it all. It was the very definition of Christmas Crazy.

The chuckles stopped the first time I saw him--the homeowner. One day I noticed him as I drove past the cacophony of decorations. He stood atop a wobbly old ladder, carefully tugging on a strand of lights that had become twisted in the wind. He was all of five feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than a buck ten, even soaking wet. His dark skin proudly bore the hundreds of badges of honor it had earned over the years in the form of wrinkles.

I asked a friend who had lived in the neighborhood for decades about the old man. "He's been doing that display since my daughter was Alexis' age," she said. Alexis was two at the time, and the daughter was in her 30's. A few other details helped piece together the puzzle and it became clear that the man was easily in his 80's.

We drove past the house tonight and for the first time in the ten years we've lived in Pittsburgh, there were no lights in the yard. There were no crazy reindeer. There was nothing but blackness enveloping the strange cars in the driveway and the newly landscaped yard.

I can only imagine what has happened to put an end to the memorable display of cheer. I know, however, that whoever that man was who spent hours each year putting together the eccentric collection of glowing holiday joy, he made a difference.

I will remember him.

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Reader Comments (29)

beautiful, absolutely beautifully written.

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

oh no! As much as I have no lights, and no tree, due to my tiny apartment. I know you. And I know you love the Christmas Crazy (which I hope to find somewhere in Ft. Lauderdale this year for you, if I can!) and it makes me SO SAD that a place you loved isn't lit up this year.

And I know that your house isn't lit up like you'd like. You know I'll come out and help next year (or this year) to get it as you'd like! :-)

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpghrugbyangel


where was this, if I may ask?

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErinPatricia

This was a post that tugged the heart strings. Thank you for sharing.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDina

This made me sad because its the same situation with my grandfathers house. He passed away in January. He always decorated (not necessarily bad decorating though). And we sold his house in the summer. The new owners don't have even a strand of lights, a wreath on a window, or a view of a christmas tree.
Part of me wanted to take them decorations incase maybe since they bought the house they can't afford them. Or they just don't celebrate christmas. :(

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkaryn

@Erin Patricia--It was in Bridgeville, a few miles south of downtown right on Washington Pike.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBurgh Baby

@Karyn--I drive past our old house every day and it's very weird not to look up and see Christmas lights. There isn't so much as a wreath hanging there either. At least in our case it's that we moved to a better house and that the new homeowner is just a Scrooge. Your situation would make me sad. :-(

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBurgh Baby

Sometimes, I wish we all lived in villages like many humans used to, where everyone took care of everyone else.

This way, maybe that man's house would have lights up.

But we don't.

And that makes me sad.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndreAnna

dammit, way to make my eyes leak.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

Way too early for wet eyes. Beautiful tribute to a man who wanted nothing more than to brighten up the season. (Hugs)Indigo

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIndigo

Dude - way to make me cry...

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGina

I almost wrote the same thing as the comment above me, but, hey, why not?

Dude, way to make me cry.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFireMom


aww man. You made me tear up.

Beautiful, simply beautiful.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

It is nice to remember all the people who made a difference in your life in all the little ways. I am sure he will be missed.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOtter Thomas

Poor CrazyLightMan. If you don't mind, I think I will picture him in a nice, cush rest home with illegal strands of lights decorating his room at chest-height. :)

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie in MA

Through some internet magic, I now know the guy's name and that he and his wife bought the house in 1950. Still not sure if he is still living there or not, though.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBurgh Baby


December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOHmommy

what a honor to him. I think we all have those people in our lives. Ours was the crossing guard, Hank. He was at the girls elementary school for years and years before we started taking the girls there. He was always there with a smile and a little tid bit of information about the weather, altho never talk to him about Dick Goddard (he thought he was the devil) Last year they moved Hank to a busier intersection, seems like he was having some issues with local kids that didn't have any respect. The first day of school I drove past that new intersection he was posted at last year and he wasn't there. The crossing guard in his place, a frazzled 30 something year old woman, had no clue who he was or where he was placed.

I sure do hope Hank is okay.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Okay. I'm crying at work. What an awesome story....

Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLee of MWOB

Okay then. I'm now sad.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKellie

I know exactly the house you are talking about! I drove past it every year on the way to my old office in Bridgeville and I always giggled at the kooky decorations, but never knew why they were so eccentric. I am sad to hear that I won't see them when I drive by for my office Christmas party this year, I hope he is OK.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I immediately knew what you were talking about. I haven't been to my parents' house in the evening since Thanksgiving, but I was hoping to see those lights on my way to Christmas Eve dinner. I grew up seeing those lights every single day during the holiday season. I hope he is well. Christmas on Washington Pike won't be the same without that display.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterplblog

Amazing post. Love this.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Aww man. You made me cry!

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKat

This made me a little teary. These neighbors we never get to meet... it's too bad we can't let them know.

This has inspired me to leave notes at some houses I love to see during the holidays.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbessieviola

It's amazing how much these displays can mean to us, especially when we ruefully shake our heads at the...eccentric...collection of items at times. But you hit it on the head; I suspect a lot of work, care, and love went into that display every year.

You certainly are great at reminding me to look at things from a more joyful, rather than negatively critical, perspective! Thank you!

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScrumpy Daddy

Because I'm stalkerish, I drove past before it was dark and there is one reindeer up in a tree. That's it. What does THAT mean?

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBurgh Baby

awww.. that is just crazy poignant.. and then i read your reindeer in the tree part.. .. way to toy with my emotions.

im glad to know you're stalkerish... it's a theme round these parts... but not me.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSupahMommy

I have a house like this in the city I grew up in. We would see it every year on th way back from visiting my Grandma. I hope it's still there.

p.s. totally diggin' the pigtails!

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElaine A.

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