Keeping up with the Joneses
Everyone knows that the whole thing started years ago when Dick Jones, overcome by the spirit of Christmas, tied a festoon of holly around the neck of a plastic pink flamingo that ornamented his front lawn.
Dick’s wife, Alice, and several of his friends commented favorably on the seasonal decoration, which strengthened the likelihood that Jones would so enhance his art object the following year. His friend and next-door neighbor, Bob Smythe, complimented Dick’s creative genius. But Bob’s wife, Jane, was jealous.
“Why can’t you ever think of anything nice like that?” she whispered in Bob’s ear.
Bob knew that with a year to plan he could top Dick’s Christmas decoration. And he did. The following year, about three days before he figured Dick would wrap his flamingo with holly, Bob dressed the plastic duck family on his front lawn in little Santa Claus costumes.
Everyone said that the plastic mama duck and the plastic baby ducks dressed in little red suits tufted with white fur were the cutest things they’d ever seen. Whenever Bob and Jane looked out the window at their Santa ducks, Jane would squeeze Bob’s arm and Bob would stick out his chest with the satisfied feeling that only comes from work well done.
Although Dick Jones had to compliment his neighbor, he knew he’d been upstaged and that the cars that would creep by this season would be full of folks who had come over to see the Santa ducks and not his decorated flamingo. Dick and Alice discussed making a Santa costume for their bird but were clever enough to realize that it would look like they were just copying the Smythe ducks.
In the end, Alice, who had been around more than just a little bit, bought two strings of Christmas lights and a couple of extension cords. She put a string of lights on a small tree that grew in the front yard, while Dick tastefully arranged fresh holly on their flamingo. He wasn’t about to give up a good thing just because of Bob Smythe’s Santa ducks. Then he crowned his work with a string of colored lights. Dick and Alice went into their home feeling very good about themselves indeed. They knew that Bob Smythe’s eyes would bug out when they turned on their Christmas lights that evening.
A year later, Bob Smythe augmented his Santa ducks with two four-foot striped candles which he erected on his doorstep. By then, however, Jones already had small candles with white bulbs in four of his front windows.
The following season, Jones outlined his garage door with a string of blinking colored lights. The Smythes added a three-foot plastic Santa which sat with a whip in its hand in a sleigh, now harnessed to the plastic duck Santas.
Smythe achieved instant local notoriety when a picture of his entourage appeared in the paper. Our editor was unable to think of a caption to run under it.
It was about that time that someone called my attention to the collective genius of Smythe and Jones. No holiday could pass without appropriate symbols appearing on their front lawns. I began to study them in hopes of learning something that would make my own place a bit more attractive.
I noticed that Jones braces up a 12-foot wooden rabbit at Easter. Strobe lights are cleverly concealed in the creature’s huge basket of eggs. Smythe rolls out plaster pumpkins for Halloween. I enjoy his Halloween witch (with two glowing red lights for eyes) that flies back and forth on wires. Jones wrapped his entire house in eight-foot firecrackers for the Fourth of July. Both men built large barns out back that serve only as storage bins for their props.
But I digress, for it is at Christmas that Smythe and Jones are at their unparalleled best.
Besides the attractive decorations mentioned above, their homes are now outlined with blinking colored lights. Red and blue blinking lights flash from every window. A life-sized illuminated plastic Santa Claus stands in the middle of a crèche with several live sheep and wooden shepherds and wise men who bob about on wires. Eight ceramic life-sized reindeer and a real sleigh loaded with brightly wrapped presents are braced on top of Smythe’s house. Stereo speakers, hidden somewhere within the bowels of a manger, blast the observer with "Jingle Bell Rock." On top of Jones’ house is a sign that spells “Merry Xmas” in three-foot letters filled with blinking lights.
Every year at this time a wide-lens photo of the whole business appears in our local newspaper, and well it should. Otherwise, many of us might forget the real meaning of Christmas.
Robert Karl Skoglund is a longtime local writer, speaker and radio personality in Knox County. He lives in St. George. His commentary will appear in The Courier-Gazette from time to time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is online at thehumblefarmer.com.