We went round the bend and drove down our little street. There it was: Easily 20 feet tall, grinning menacingly. Strange, smaller figures clung to it or looked on. It was a scene out of some Disneyland ride gone utterly, awfully mad
Our new neighbors had set out their holiday decorations.
Now this is often a trial and a challenge for me. Where I grew up, Christmas lights were magical. Their many colors lit up the snow, making it look like some fairy had casually dropped gemstones across a white, rolling carpet. There were very few figures or scenes. Just lights, and pretty trees in the windows.
Here in the south, you may see sights you would never want to imagine. Santa Clause frequently shows up at the side of a cradle; biblical figures are placed on the other side. Gingerbread figures stand in a row nearby. Animal figures climb out of sleighs, following a pneumatic Santa on the lawn.
I should explain that I was once forced to endure the Disneyland ride “It’s a Small World.” It was a traumatic experience from which I have never fully recovered. For one thing, grinning dolls are scary. There is no comfort in them. For another, the ride broke down and we had to sit in one place for nearly half an hour while the dolls sang that dreadful, tinny song over and over again. You know that song. We all know that song because if we have heard it even once, it will creep into our brain and never, ever go away. Even playing “Jingle Bells” over and over again will not drive it out. That one, too, lives in our brain.
I began to worry: Could I go out late at night in the dark to bring the garbage bin to the street? Would I be gobbled up by the Abominable Snowblimp from the Land of Bad Taste? Would my end involve being smothered by the Cheery Penguins, or would I just be found in the emergency room of the nearby hospital, singing “Silver and Gold”?
It does not help that the things these figures intend to evoke – wintry delights and snowy activities – are almost never to be found where I live. If there were some snow on the ground, or snow to hope for this year, or snow that might make a furtive appearance sometime in the next decade or two, it might help. But in North Carolina’s Piedmont, our portion during the winter months includes plenty of rain and mud, but not snow.
Most of the first quarter century of my life was spent in the upper Midwest, where it might begin to snow around Halloween. You could be sure it would snow until March. One year, it snowed on my birthday in early May.
Here, the ground turns into a mucky brown in December, the weather is merely gray and gloomy, and no person – elderly or otherwise – should try navigating our roofs for any reason – even a religious one. The slimy, killing combination of rain and disintegrating leaves up there has to be dangerous for all beings – even imaginary ones.
I tried to imagine all the weeks leading up to the New Year haunted by the monster balloon just three doors down. What if it walked down the street and gobbled up our little house like the Stay-Puft Man in Ghostbusters? What do such beings eat? Do balloon beings live on other forms of plastic? I imagined it rooting through the bin of empty pots from the rhododendrons, the camellias, and the gardenias I had planted that same week, when our December temperatures rose to the sixties.
We had been such a restrained neighborhood, marked by many white and colored lights, and a little ceramic deer here or there. Grinning Inflatables of over twenty feet just weren’t our style. Until now.
The next morning, Ralf and I got ready to drive to UNC Charlotte, where we both teach. I dreaded – even in daylight – the sight of that monstrous Snowthing. Still, I looked to make sure it was still there, so I could convince myself that I would be brave when we returned that night, knowing what was coming in the dark.
This is what I saw.
I swear. I didn’t do it.