Christmas Lights

by Ruth Z Deming

Christmas fever had struck the Moreland Hills development right after Halloween. Andy, nearing seventy years old, got up on a ladder, while his wife Judy, parted the drapes and prayed he didn't have an accident. Charlie, next door, held the ladder for him. Up went that old-fashioned star, looking as if it were from the fifties. What would they know? White neon reindeer sauntered in place on the lawn.

The new folks who came from a row house in Northeast Philadelphia luxuriated in their ranch house and left not a space, even for rain or snow, though the weather remained fair. Ever seen a huge Santa on a motorcycle? As if it were in a float at the Macy's Day parade. An enormous sled adorned the roof with flashing colors - red, blue, and white.

"Merry Christmas" read a sign in their driveway, "from Lloyd and Kate Sullivan."

"Jingle Bells," "Joy to the World," and "Good King Wenceslas" played from speakers on the Carsons' lawn, as neighbors gathered there every night to chat and gossip. It was no secret they had lost a son to addiction. Perhaps this was a way to honor young Aaron Carson, unable to free himself from the deadly powder: cocaine.

Karl Sherman worked the night shift at SEPTA, the transportation department that served the Greater Philadelphia Area. There was nothing that man couldn't fix or put together. Across his lawn a glittering silver train with windows - half the size of a real train - read "Merry Christmas from Karl Sherman."

Karl's girlfriend Molly lived right next door. Jewish, she had a huge menorah on her front lawn. Flickering lights dazzled passersby.

Molly was originally from Alaska, where she had been a teller at The First National Bank in Fairbanks. A gunman entered the bank.

"Everyone down on the floor!" he shouted, wearing a red and white bandana across his mouth.

"No fooling around and everyone gets out of here alive."

He pressed his gun against Molly's temple.

"Let's go," he said. "I ain't got all day."

With shaking hands, the dark-haired woman went to the vault and filled two canvas bags with stacks of bills.

"You'll never get away with this," she mumbled.

He kicked her onto the floor, fired a shot into the air, and exited the bank.

He was such an amateur he forgot that every movement he made was recorded on the silent camera.

Molly and other members of the staff needed counseling after that day.

"Mom," she told her mother. "I can't get that man out of my head."

"Well, go ahead," said her mother. "Move to the Philadelphia area. Get a job at a newspaper. You did good when you worked for the Alaska Sentinel."

Molly Weissman was hired to run the editorial department at the Philadelphia Star News. She found herself writing about Seward's Folly, the purchase of Alaska from the Russians. Letters to the Editor poured in. She condensed the best of them and found herself actually missing the cold country.

Jack London's famous story "To Build a Fire" illustrated the hazards of hiking alone, with only his dog for a companion, and dying of hypothermia.

On her screened in back porch, Molly would type on her laptop. An outdoor thermometer, with bird portraits on every hour, showed the temperatures.

As do many people who live alone, Molly talked to herself.

"I'm as cold-blooded as a goldfish," she laughed.

The thermostat on her house was set at 58 degrees.

One night, drinking a hot cup of apple cider, under a blanket her mother had knitted her, she was reading "Becoming," the memoir of Michelle Obama.

"Leave your comfort zone," Mrs. Obama urged her readers. "Travel the world!"

Molly put the book down and began pacing across her office. Photos dappled her walls.

"So? Should I? Dare me?"

She researched travel plans for all of twelve minutes.

Wearing her PJs, she went into the hall closet and wheeled out a plaid suitcase.

She phoned Dave's Limousine.

"Please pick me up at six in the morning. My flight leaves at nine a.m."

She lay in bed, barely able to sleep.

She heard the honk and waited for him to pick up her suitcase."

"Nice street," said the driver. "All ready for Christmas."

A small plane sailed into the airport in Portland, Maine.

She took a taxi to Red Holly Bush Farm.

A dozen people greeted her under the white sky, under which gentle snowflakes were falling.

Christmas lights flashed on and off in a joyful welcome.

The guests wore either their bathing suits or nothing at all.

Molly gave a scream of joy!

"My people!" she cried. "My people."

After a hot breakfast of blueberry pancakes and real maple syrup, she stripped down to her curvaceous body and joined her compatriots. They built snowmen, shaped something resembling an igloo, where it was warm inside, and found a frozen pond, where they skated across in their shoes or bedroom slippers.

Molly stayed all of one week.

She did love her Karl Sherman, but her love of the great freezing-cold outdoors was as tempting as a snow cone made of fresh snow and real maple syrup.

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