Walter Mencken 10:15 a.m., Dec. 13
For almost 12 years I’ve lived next door to the house on my street that decorates to the max for our two biggest holidays - Halloween and Christmas. There are people who think it is annoying - the banging at all hours as displays are erected, bright lights and sometimes even sounds (Try having a serious conversation with a chain saw and screams in the background!) until late into the night and finally, the crowds who make the pilgrimage to Oxford Street. For our family, the anticipation (What can they do to top last year?) and joy at the finished displays have become a part of our holiday traditions and something that we look forward to every year.
Right now there are overt signs that the economy is still shaky and has hit our neighborhood hard. Housing prices quickly out-paced wages in our working class family community and as owners pushed rents up to try and save their homes, renters were forced out too. The result is the empty-eyed presence of two or three houses on each block, stark reminders of friends and neighbors pushed out of the area, many after a lifetime on the Southside. This year we braced ourselves and watched to see if and when the street would light up with holiday cheer. It’s been a tough year for my family too and like everyone else on the block, we’ve pulled together to keep enough money coming in to stay afloat. Still standing, we are counting many blessings - this holiday season we feel lucky. Right before Thanksgiving it started - a little banging here and there, a string of lights on one house, Santa and his reindeer smiling down from another. By the first day of December the magic kicked in and when we walked outside one night we were greeted by a thousand twinkling lights playing off each other, house by house, as far as we could see up the block! Every evening my neighbor has added something else, continuing to set the benchmark, brightly challenging everyone else to bring their “A game” and pushing the “Christmas Spirit Meter” on to new heights on the block. Other neighbors follow suit and now, the whole street is ablaze with light ands color when the sun goes down. The cars are starting to queue up - overflowing with “Ooohs and Ahs” as they roll by. It isn’t a “Christmas Tree Lane” but has become for many people a part of their route to soak up some joy and get some spirit started. Some of the displays are simple, some more ornate, but as you cruise up the block, you can’t help but smile and feel hopeful. For sure the economy has taken it’s toll on my street. During the day, one still sees the vacant houses and thinks of the faces that aren’t smiling from well manicured lawns or how quiet it has become with less families on the block.. But at night hope comes alive, pumped up by the lights and color that are the outward signs of joy and that good old Christmas Spirit in South C.V. The vacant homes, bathed in light and color, seem less empty somehow. Personal struggles fade into the shadows for awhile and optimism casts it‘s glow on us all. This year if you look to the south at night and see a glow, it’s just the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, reminding us that regardless of your situation, this year the Christmas Spirit in the South Bay shines brightly, joy is sparkling and hope lights the sky.