When was the last time you brought a child to a toy store? Back when my children were young, I used to take them to both Toys ‘R Us and F.A.O. Schwarz to make their Christmas list the first weekend in December. We would buy nothing but inspect everything. Eventually they would make their lists and hand them to me to send to Santa.
Amazingly they loved just walking around these two toy store palaces, never demanding anything. We’d even go walk around these stores on rainy days all year ’round just to browse. You can only do this sort of thing up until a certain age. All parents remember the magic of the young children seeing a Santa Claus come Christmastime. I once was the Santa for the East Hampton Rotary Club back in December of 2014. It was so amazing all the things the kids told me. They were all believers.
Not sure when I stopped believing, but I remember when I learned where to look that week before Christmas for the stash of gifts for me and my brothers and sister. It was my older sister, then perhaps ten years old, who took me, then perhaps seven years old, to see what was hidden in an obscure closet near my parents’ room. The gifts were concealed under an old army blanket. We lifted it and there were all the new boxes, some already wrapped.
Come this time of year everything old becomes new to a whole new generation of children who never heard the old Christmas songs, or never decorated a tree or saw the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Better yet, their first time seeing and understanding The Grinch that Stole Christmas! He was a mean one, that Mr. Grinch.
I feel a certain spring in my step during Christmastime. Remember fetching the old Christmas lights out of the garage or attic to put them around the house? To this day I use the old lights in a new way every year, including this year. I like to change it up.
Many years ago, I was assigned to go find the craziest Christmas Light display in all the Hamptons and I believe I did. It was on the corner of Elm and Post Crossing in Southampton. It was then the home of Bill and Colleen Frankenbach. They had lived in this classic 1892 Victorian home for 50 years. Bill, when I interviewed him with Colleen bringing me eggnog, was age 78. Bill said he counted, “Over 10,000 Christmas lights,” a few years back. This home was quite the Christmas lights house. Bill and Colleen had reindeer, Santas, big trains all adorned with multicolored Christmas lights, not to mention white lights around all the windows. While I was there, it was a thrill just to watch the children and their folks driving by and stopping to look.
There is always a story behind such Christmas lights homes. When Bill retired from running a nursery and selling Christmas accessories in 1995, he had the time to assemble and maintain an outstanding Christmas lights display. As he explained, every year he added a reindeer, a Santa, then a train, a soldier, more deer, a snowman and new lights. He said it became a tradition to add a new thing almost every year. Mr. Frankenbach said he would start to assemble his massive light display in the middle of November. He’d finish in early December and he would keep the lights on until just after New Year’s.
For those who wonder about such things, Mr. Frankenbach said to light the 10,000 lights he used no less than 10 timers with at least 50 plugs going into numerous extension cords. He had them timed to put the lights on at 4 pm as it gets dark in December. They were turned off at 11 pm. Even back in 2008 he said his utility bill was “extremely high” in December!
Today I use solar lights, no plugs or timers. I send my grandchildren their gifts via UPS, or order them to be directly delivered. I still personally wrap gifts for my wife the way my mother taught me when I was five or six. Fold the corners in to save wrapping paper. It’s a way to put something old onto something new. I still feel Mom watching me when I do it.