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Tacky? Tasteful? Try not to judge

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: December 4, 2020

You may want to grab a pencil and paper, because I’m about to impart a priceless little jewel of wisdom: “There are two sides to every street.”

I imagine you are most likely stunned by my remarkable mastery of the obvious, but try to focus on this helpful illustration: On the east end of Anystreet in Anytown, USA, there stands a brick colonial. Four bedrooms, faux shutters, window boxes and neatly trimmed hedges.

At the behest of his wife Brooke, husband Niles Rutheford retrieves a stepladder from the garage to hang the seasonal decorations on their house. It is the weekend after Thanksgiving because, of course, it would be gauche to decorate for the holidays any sooner.

While Niles stands on the ladder in his nubuck driving moccasins, pressed Chinos and  half-zip lambswool sweater, Brooke hands him an assortment of pomegranates, pears, magnolia leaves and fresh pine boughs to decorate the arched pediment over the front door. Taking care not to scratch her riding boots, Brooke removes the fall bittersweet and decorative cabbage displays from the window boxes, and replaces them with an artful and fragrant arrangement of pineapples, holly berries and eucalyptus.      

Preferring Colonial authenticity to garish modern light displays, the Ruthefords opt to place a single flickering LED cordless candlestick in each of their front windows. With their holiday decorating completed in just two hours, the Ruthefords head to the Starbucks drive-through in their Range Rover for chai teas and gluten-free scones.  

On the west end of Anystreet, there stands a 1970s split level. Three bedrooms, vinyl siding, and an apartment in the basement for Uncle Wayne. While his wife Dawn went shopping on Black Friday, husband Buck Pachinski and son Cletus took the extension ladder out from under the trampoline, and 17 Rubbermaid tubs filled with outdoor holiday decorations from the shed.

While Cletus inflated the giant rotating snow globe and elf carousel for the front lawn, Buck began the arduous process of staple-gunning 7,000 colored lights to the roof, windows, doors, shed, fence, trees and shrubs. At some point, Uncle Wayne joined in, lining the driveway with lighted candy canes and setting up the 12-piece life-sized nativity scene.

After seven days of hard labor, four trips to Home Depot, three puncture wounds and one cracked rib, the Pachinski property is a lighted holiday masterpiece, complete with computerized musical synchronization to "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" via FM transmitter.    

A week later, the Ruthefords receive "Best Holiday Decor" recognition from the Anytown Garden Club, but some residents feel their snooty decor lacks holiday spirit. Conversely, the Pachinskis receive a citation from the Anytown authorities for violating various local ordinances, but every kid in town says the Pachinskis have “the best Christmas lights ever.”

When we were stationed in Florida, our military friends told us about a local neighborhood with “the best Christmas lights ever.” That night, we packed the kids into our minivan and followed the directions our friends gave us, but were surprised to find a shabby collection of small homes in a swampy area just off the expressway. We were skeptical, but the long line of cars had us intrigued, so we waited.

A few minutes later, we entered the subdivision, and were amazed. Somehow, these ambitious swamp dwellers had hung hundreds of strings of lights vertically from the highest tree branches, so that the lights dangled straight down to the ground like electrified stalactites in every color imaginable. The effect was truly magical, and I had to admit, that neighborhood really did have “the best Christmas lights ever.”

Thanks to the coronavirus restrictions, most military families are cooped up, unable to travel, unable to gather, unable to visit, unable to attend church services, command parties, cookie exchanges, holiday concerts, and gift swaps. The one thing we can do this year is drive around looking at holiday lights, so why not go all out with holiday decor?

Brace yourself for another tidbit of priceless wisdom: Whether you prefer tasteful or tacky, don’t judge, because during the 2020 holiday season, we all need as much light, love and laughter we can get.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com