Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Joys #18 - A Nontraditional Bonnie Glen Cove Christmas

I wrote this Christmas story more than 25 years ago.  I hope you enjoy it.

A Nontraditional Bonnie Glen Cove Christmas

     The Clovers moved in next door the day the Bonnie Glen Cove Improvement Committee was meeting at our house.  My mom had been in her usual tizzy, greeting the neighbors and taking their coats, and we hadn't noticed the moving van until Tiffany Underwood arrived.

     "Have you seen the van next door?"  Tiffany shed her mink with the same carelessness as my brother Joey when he drops his school books and parka on his way for an after-school snack.  "I saw a Louis XIV chair go in the front door."

     The ladies gathered at the living room window to get a better view.  "Jacobean!" Carolyn Carruthers crooned, as the movers carried a dark, ornate, dining table.

     Next came a glass and chrome dining table.  "Eclectic!" said Jane Zorba.  "I'm so glad they're cosmopolitan enough to mix styles!"

     The movers were now struggling with a cumbersome piece of furniture, its girth almost too wide to come out the back of the moving van.  The ladies strained to see; Mrs. Underwood even put on her glasses, something I had only seen her do on one other occasion, when she was inspecting my mom's new wallpaper.

     "Oh, no!"

     "You've got to be kidding."

     "Nouveau riche comes to the suburbs!"

     I pushed my way to the window to get a look.  Two of the movers were almost to the front door, carrying a heart-shaped mattress the size of a small gymnasium.  Another mover followed with the headboard, a confusion of brass cupids, hearts, and flowers.  After a brief struggle to get the mattress through the front door, the movers decided that it would be amusing to set up the bed on the front lawn, after which another covered it with a velvet spread of bubble-gum pink.  The effect was not unlike the valentine Greg Hopkins sent me last year, the one my dad said had a little bit of everything, except some blinking neon lights.

     The ladies had a hard time getting down to business after that.  The subject of the meeting was to be how to decorate for Christmas, as it always was the week after Thanksgiving.  I felt the meeting was really unnecessary.  It was always the consensus that exterior decorations should be understated -- a little greenery, and perhaps some red velvet bows on the driveway gas lights or mailboxes.  Certainly nothing that would mar the image of Bonnie Glen Cove as the Middleburg, Ohio gentry.

     "Do you think we should advise the new neighbors as to our decorating policy?"  Carolyn Carruthers asked.

     "We certainly should," Tiffany Underwood was emphatic.  "The cove has an image to maintain.  I'm sure these people would be grateful for being included in our plans.  Now, Carol, isn't it time for some of your homemade chocolate cake?"  Tiffany's tone made the word "homemade" sound like a synonym for "tainted".  The ladies ate every bite of it, as they always did.

     My mom loves the Christmas season and her efforts, though haphazard, always get my dad, Joey, and me excited and full of the spirit of the season.  As usual, we kept our outdoor decorations sedate, but pulled out all the stops inside.  Our tree held every ornament Joey and I had ever bought or made, even including a piece of a tin can lid that Joey thought would make a pretty ornament when he was three years old.  We hung tinsel everywhere and put out the Santa Claus doorknob and toilet paper covers that Grandma Story had made before she died.  The house was certainly colorful.  We probably would have even decorated the station wagon, but Mom commented that the neighbors already disapproved because we didn't own a gray Mercedes.  We didn't need to flaunt our poverty and lack of taste.

     During all the Christmas flurry, the committee members must have forgotten to notify the Clovers of the decoration policy.  I don't know, maybe Mom was embarrassed to mention it; I know she had visited with Mrs. Clover and had even taken over some of her chocolate fudge brownies.  "She looks like Dolly Parton," Mom had said.  "Same curly blond hair, same friendly smile."

     "Same build?"  my dad had asked, whereupon my mom had given him a gentle punch in the belly.

     "I think she's beautiful," Joey said.  "She looks like an angel.  She said that she wished she had a little boy just like me and that maybe someday she and Mr. Clover would get lucky and have one.  And she gave me cookies!"

     Joey thinks that anyone who gives him cookies is beautiful, but I think that he made a good point.  Anybody who would want a little boy like him would have to be an angel, or a bit insane.

     Anyway, the last day of school before Christmas vacation, Joey ran into the house babbling about the beautiful decorations next door.  We followed him outside and were greeted by every symbol of the Christmas season known to man.  A huge Santa and sleigh trotted across the Clovers' roof, led by a Rudolph with a red lightbulb for a nose; a life-sized nativity scene graced one side of the front lawn, a Santa's workshop scene was on the other, and three gigantic camels seemed to be trekking between the two.  Frosty the Snowman stood sentry duty at the mailbox, the front door was a giant foil-wrapped Christmas gift and every window held a wreath.  Colored lights were everywhere -- outlining the house, the trees, the mailbox, the driveway, even the fire hydrant.

     "Isn't it something?"  Joey asked.

     "It's something, all right."  Mom looked like she didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  She hesitated.  "It's certainly well lighted, isn't it?"  My mom tries to be kind to everyone.  You can tell when she's trying extra hard, because sometimes it takes her a couple of seconds to think of something nice to say.

     It must have been hard for her the next few days.  All the neighbors seemed to have something to say about the Clovers; none of it was kind and none of it was to their faces.  Everytime the phone rang, it was for Mom, and I could tell from her expression that it was another tirade from Tiffany Underwood, Carolyn Carruthers, or Jane Zorba.  I never heard Mom say anthing but, "Well, it is colorful," or "They really have the Christmas spirit," or "Joey really loves the lights."  The cove had more traffic that week than it had had during the ten years it had been in existence.  Carloads of people would drive by, the children ooing and aahing over the lights and Christmas scenes.

     Another Christmas tradition on Bonnie Glen Cove was that Christmas Eve was a family time.  The week prior to Christmas was a round of luncheons and parties and Mom told me that the Clovers weren't invited to any of them.  By dusk on Christmas Eve, everyone on the cove was at home, enjoying a quiet family Christmas.  So we were surprised when the doorbell rang at 7:00, and even more surprised at the old man who had rung it.  He certainly wasn't Santa Claus, even though he had a white beard.  His clothes looked slept-in and he had an odor something like old sneakers might smell if you filled them with cheap wine.

     "Could you tell me where 1716 Bonnie Glen Cove is?"  The old man seemed ill at ease, and I wondered if he might be a long-lost relative of the Clovers, showing up unannounced for a Christmas handout.

     "It's next door."  Mom gestured toward the Clovers' house.

     "Thank you, Ma'm."  The old man started across the lawn and we noticed about a dozen cars parked in the Clovers' drive and in front of the house.  Several looked like the junkers the boys work on in shop at school.

     The phone rang and I could tell from Mom's end of the conversation that Mrs. Underwood across the street was complaining about the party at the Clovers'.

     "Yes, Tiffany, it is nice to spend Christmas Eve with the family, but . . ."

     "No, Tiffany, I didn't say anything to Mrs. Clover and . . ."

     "Well, I really think it's too late to do anything about it now . . ."

     Once again, the doorbell rang and I went to answer it.  The lady on the porch was so thin that she reminded me of the pictures of anorexia sufferers we had seen in health class.  Two children were holding onto her coat.  At least I think they were two children; all I could see were two pairs of round eyes peeping around the lady's legs.

     "Could you tell me where 1716 Bonnie Glen Cove is?"  My face must have shown the question I felt like asking; she held out an index card, and printed on it in large capital letters were the words:  "There is Room."  I took it from her and read the rest of what was written:
        There are still those who are looking for a place
Come join those who wish to share theirs
If you have no gifts to bring, bring your love and good cheer.
1716 Bonnie Glen Cove

     Mom and Dad had joined us at the front door and I gave Mom the card.  She read it aloud and then said, "You'll find 1716 Bonnie Glen Cove next door."

     As the lady left, Mom turned to Dad and said, "I think it's time we broke Bonnie Glen Cove tradition."

     Dad nodded and said, "Get your coats, Jeanie and Joey.  We going to a party."

     As we traipsed across our lawn towards the Clovers', laiden down with the refreshments prepared for our family Christmas, Joey pointed to the sky above.  "Ya know what," he said with a grin.  "I'll bet their house has 50 million lights.  I'll bet, on a clear night like tonight, you can even see their house for miles and miles and miles."

     And you know what?  On that night, I'll bet Joey was right!


Leanne said...

Dearest sweetest Annie ... I wish you an absolutely wonderful, magical and happy happy Christmas!! I have to add you to my list of inspiring blogs because I often miss stopping by for you!!!! Wishing you a Merry Christmas, dear Annie.

Mollianne said...

Oh, my goodness! What a precious story. I'm glad I remembered that I wanted to read something I had passed up earlier on your blog. What a gift you have! Thank you for sharing, even if I'm late in reading.


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