Christmas Lights, A True Story

 My relationship with the subject of math has always been strained. Like every kid of my generation, I memorized the times table, learned long division and had no trouble with the basics. But once I got to high school, things changed. In the tenth grade I actually did okay due to an excellent teacher. But after that year’s glow of self worth and the short flirtation with a slide rule had worn off, our relationship went downhill. 

As I was arranging the Christmas lights on the pillars outside my house, I was reminded of all those math feelings, and also of my dad. I remember him pulling out the box of lights, his face filled with the belief that this year would be different. But sometime over the past year the strings of lights had once again decided to mess with him by tangling themselves together.

 ‘What the…?’ I remember his shoulders slumping as he realized that sorting them out would take a whole evening. So here’s a heavenly coin, dad. Buy yourself a beer, and get one for Clarence, too. Decorating the  outside of the house is not all that much fun, and I’m sorry I didn’t sound more appreciative at the time. 

Anyway, back to me. As I swung around the first pillar, one foot on the top rung of the ladder and my De Walt drill in hand, a surge of vertigo washed over me. This has become my new normal, so planting my feet, I grimly screwed a hole into the wood overhead and then twisted in a hook. My problem? I’d recently come into contact with a math germ, ie: Christmas lights and electricity, and was having a hell of a time figuring things out. 

All four strands had gone up a few days before, but only two pillars would light. For people like me who live in a world of faith, God, and occasionally a fairy or two, this was not good news. Was it the cords I’d used? Could one of the many strings I’d joined together be broken? (Full disclosure: I forgot to check them before winding them around the posts.) The strings had been braided through with fake greenery. Working with them can be a challenge. Especially when I’m up high, and the world is swinging crazily around in spite of my not actually being high. If you know what I mean.

I brought out a portable radio and plugged it into the cord ends along the way. Aha! One had only a single in-thingy that worked. The one on the other side didn’t. (For the official name for in-thingy, please consult google. Or anyone who knows about plugs. Or who hasn’t lost words over time. But that’s another story.) 

Sadly, I have recently discovered that electricity is not my friend. When I was installing two small chandeliers in my bedroom ceiling, my brother, who was at work and probably hiding in a closet, was talking me through it. I felt like the latest hire on a bomb squad. In the end, it worked. But after that, my bathroom lights would flicker on and off at random times. I’ve changed the bulbs twice. We’ll see.

So, getting the lights around the outside of my house to actually work was very important to me. I’m basically like every two year old you’ve ever met. ‘Do it myself!’ That’s the toddler’s motto I cling to these days. I don’t know why. Seriously. I have very helpful friends and family members, but I like to experiment with things that might kill me. 

As I was testing the cords, figuring out where I could plug in what (eight cords were now involved, snaking along the wood facing of my overhang and tucked into the now installed hooks) I realized that I really wished magic was a thing. I wanted to be Hermione Granger and just wave my wand and mutter a few words like ‘Stringem upem.’ No wonder they enter Hogwarts at age 11. You don’t have to worry about things like math when you have a magic wand. 

Fortunately, a few verses of ‘How Great Thou Art,’ seemed to do the trick. I don’t know if God saw it as a bribe (it was not, it’s my go to theme song for panicked moments) but in the end, everything worked out. Will I remember how I did this next year? No. I will not. Otherwise, I would have remembered doing them last year. This is not the kind of thing that sticks in my brain. 

So if you drive by, please appreciate my hard work, math efforts, and ability to stay on the ladder while surfing a wave of vertigo. And I will appreciate your work, too. We Christmas lighting people have to stick together. 

Published by Judith Anne Pettersen

Judith Pettersen is an author living in Canada. She blogs about her life in the north and the ups and downs of being a writer.

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