You may be surprised to learn that some people watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” as a comedy, even a cautionary tale. Or you may have considered it an instruction manual for laying on the holiday lights. If so, you may be a Griswold. Like our family, you may have grown up bound to Clark Griswold and his kin by heedless enthusiasm. On summer vacations, we, too, stashed senior family members in the station wagon, and occasionally forgot to unstash them. On road trips we had a knack for landing at the beach rental next to the military base during summer firing practice. Once, we dragged the wreck of a drone target from the tide line to the cabin and roped it to the top of the Rambler to take home. Finders keepers, we told the military police.
That said, we are pleased to report that no military personnel have ever had cause to remove our Christmas decorations. Unlike our drone. But I was beginning to worry about the possibility of emergency medical technicians. Like Clark Griswold, we are always trying to spread the joy of wattage. To that end, we encouraged our daughter to jump out of the car seat in December and say, “Oooh! A fairyland!” Grown now, and a safe ocean away, she tells us it was all a lie, every single “Ooh.” It was a pretty good effort, she said, but no fairyland. Fairylands have better trees. Our front yard had trees once. They were evergreens planted before cable TV, and possibly phone service and electricity, had wires. They were big, mean things that poked at the roof, jabbed at the pipes and scratched Tacoma Public Utilities linemen. FYI, TPU linemen take none of that. If we appreciate power, they advised, we should cut the trees. That left us with a golden rain tree, one of those fad plantings they used to sell on the back page of the Sunday paper magazine. The heck with the right tree for the right spot; this baby has dazzling cascades of yellow blossoms. And the core strength of a toy balsa airplane. That would not deter Clark Griswold, and it did not deter my husband. For the past five years, he has stuck a ladder up against a high, skinny branch and attached a multi-plug overloaded with about 16 strings of lights. He wrapped it all in tin foil, then put a plastic bag over the lot and tied a star to the front. Voila! Fairyland! “Meh,” said the nieces and nephews. “Why doesn’t that thing short out?” asked their parents. “Where is the branch?” I asked this year. When you pit a golden rain tree against an ice storm, which do you think is going to win? All the branches that tree had to offer this year were the big one’s thinner sisters. I might add, here, that neither my husband nor I have slimmed down to their proportions. Unlike the trusting Ellen Griswold, I could imagine the worst. I could see my husband on the magic shape-shifting ladder we bought at the Puyallup Fair, falling onto our long-suffering neighbors’ fence. My geometry is rusty, so I do not know whether the fall would involve a back flip over the fence, or just broken fingers. I could envision the red lights of rescue flashing out of Central Pierce Fire and Rescue’s Midland station, where someone had forgotten to turn off the pork chops. So I made a plan involving enough wattage, olives and ladder work to please even Clark Griswold.
You will need:
· One folding ladder
· One sledgehammer
· One metal fence post
· One empty Black Pearl Olives can (Any 14-ounce vegetable can will do, but we like to keep it classy and go with the olives.)
· One five-foot-plus length of plastic pipe that will fit over the fence post, and has room for the olive can to fit snugly inside.
· One skinnier length of plastic pipe to fit inside the larger one
· One clam rake
· Enough lights to make Clark Griswold beam
· An illuminated tree topper
· Short wooden stakes, or a lot of croquet wickets
· Find a spot in your yard with no overhead wires.
· Pound that fence stake firmly in place. (If you have spare rebar lying around, pound some of that around the base.)
· Invert the empty olive can over the top of the stake.
· Untangle your lights and get the clam rake. Start with the end of the light cord that plugs into your extension cord, then plug the other end into the next strand and wrap around the clam end of the rake. Keep on, and keep it neat, or you will be Griswolded.
· Attach the tree topper.
· Put the rake handle into the narrow pipe.
· Get the ladder, and someone to hold it steady, and put the narrow pipe into the big one.
· Spread the lights into a tree-shaped arc and secure them with the short stakes.
· Assemble the kids and neighbors, plug it all in and say: “It’s a Fairyland!” Or, if you did not pre-test the lights, something else.
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