Thursday, December 18, 2008

Army at Vienna

"Oh, come on. You're not a lawn ornament person. Your family are not lawn ornament people...Really, Allison? A Santa Claus?" Doug reiterated for the second time after I asked if I should find a 4 ft. plastic light-up Santa Claus for my sloping front yard, currently covered in wet pin oak leaves. For the past week, I've been thinking of those plastic Santa Clauses that I have never, ever, not once in my life, ever even paid attention to. Doug's right, of course, that my family are not lawn ornament people. We aren't outdoor-Christmas-lights people, either, but I've insisted on those for the past three Christmases in Missouri, switching to truly exquisite -brilliant!- LEDs this year. Only two other houses on my block have outdoor Christmas lights, and one neighbor filled his picture window with spray-on "snow" that reads (from the inside, no less) "MErRy Xmaglorb." (So, if you didn't expect a "Merry Christmas" in the window, you'd be hard pressed to understand not only the abbreviation and the backwards writing, but that the writer didn't accurately map out how much space he needed to write the greeting, thus ending the abbreviation with a big splotch of carcinogenic flocking.)

And here I am wanting to supplement my Frazier fir garland, red velvet ribbons, and bright little lights with a mass produced plastic Santa Claus. I don't have Santa Claus things, I don't collect things (other than jointed wooden Pinocchio figures from Tivoli. I think I have 6 of all different sizes. The Italian folktale entrances me.), and I don't put plastic figures in my yard. But something came over me this week as I drove through the Ozark Highlands. Not a lot of Christmas cheer evident in the upper Ozarks, with only a few houses decorated in uniform white lights strung on the eaves or draped in netting form over shrubs. But in Vienna, several miles outside of Jefferson City, I grew utterly transfixed (causing me to slow to 20 mph on a major highway) by an Ozark family who collects plastic Santa Clauses.

Driving north out of the luscious Gasconade River Hills, homes along Hwy. 63 are uniformly Ranch-style, set back from the highway with big, empty, regularly mowed front yards of fescue or Bermuda turf. Not a tree in sight save a sad Japanese maple girdled by the mower. But as sun was setting that day last week, no fewer than 30 Santa Clauses lit up an open field adjacent a sprawling white house covered in little white lights. I immediately called my colleague who runs the same road weekly:
"Oh, man, have you seen this? The Santa Claus yard in Vienna?"
"Oh, yeah, the army of Santas at Vienna. This is their first year out. Never seen it like that before. A whole mess of them."
"It's so danged jolly!"
Hours later in my gray walled cubicle, I couldn't stop thinking about the Santa Claus yard. How did this happen? Did the family innocently buy one Santa Claus clutching a candy cane one year, and relatives, upon seeing the lit up statue, decided the plastic saint needed a companion, perhaps one holding a present? Or 20 more in different positions? Did the husband simply go to wherever these things are sold and buy all of them, in one fell swoop, because he liked them? Did the family run a store that carried these things, forced to close their doors because of the Walmart in Rolla, leaving them in possession of 30 non-returnable light-up Santa Clauses? Is it a measure of mirth to have a yard packed to capacity with Santa Clauses? And if this is their first year on display, were they all waiting for a certain number, a critical mass, to debut?

There's something very peculiar about this yard. So peculiar that I made a point to return there with a camera. The Santa Clauses, you see, are not all the same. Some are bailing out of chimneys, others are holding gifts, some are waving. There are a couple of jolly snowmen out there, as well. Directly in front of the house, the Santa Clauses are joined by the illuminated three men from the East and the equally bright Holy Family. A couple of Santa Clauses hang out by the ornate, green-roofed dog house. The statues are not all facing Hwy. 63; some are turned towards the house, others are turned facing one another, a few wave at drivers. Based on the pristine snow, I was apparently the only one since the snow event who stopped, walked into the yard, and smiled at all of the statues. Maybe the family is really ironic or full of postmodern thought, making a statement about humankind and the homogenization of our culture, of our souls? Isn't there just one Santa, one individual we can believe in to bring joy on one morning each year in every kid's life? Oh, no, illustrates the family in Vienna, there are countless of them. For some reason, I didn't have the nerve to march to the door and ask.

This peculiar fascination illustrates nothing less than that my brain hasn't been the same without regular cardiovascular exercise. I don't know how sedentary people live their lives, because this lifestyle change is brutal. Earlier last week, following the discovery of the Santa Clauses, I grew obsessed with the concept of Christmas pins. Since I work in an office now (the first time since I lived in New York in the 1990s), I'm surrounded by office people who wash their hair every day and wear stockings and makeup and Christmas pins. My secretary has two of them, a Santa Claus and a wreath. She casually tilted her head at me last week and asked, sincerely, "don't you have a Christmas pin?" Well, no, actually, because I'm usually not inside enough to wear jewelry at all, much less jewelry I can only wear for 30 days. But here I am, entering week 6 of that stupid injury, and I'm still inside. Without a Christmas pin. I didn't even know where to find one. Is it the only mark of joy and happiness in an office to wear sweaters with reindeer on it and earrings with jingle bells? I've noticed that the women in my office with the most ruthless positions, those in budget and finance, wear more Christmas cheer than any of us.

So I found a wreath to wear on my black sweaters, a classy little pin that I discovered on my first-ever foray into the heart of Columbia Mall. I'm not searching for a plastic Santa Claus, because I like the effect of a whole mess of them, arranged scattered in an old field, not just one sitting on my wooden porch. Further, I'm not a collector, a hoarder of things and stuff, and besides, despite how transfixed I've been on the yard in Vienna, light up Santa Clauses are terribly inefficient.


beetles in the bush said...

Yes, but unlit Santas wading amongst wet pin oak leaves would be a most paradoxical expression - go for it!
my best -- ted

Pablo said...

There is a yard called the Penguin Yard here in suburban Kansas City that is supposed to be along these lines. I haven't seen it. I'm worried about psychic scars.

Allison Vaughn said...

A colony in KC, wading on Kentucky bluegrass. Back home, people tend to go way over the top with Christmas lights, but around here, it's subtle. In New Orleans, there's a neighborhood that hires a detail police officer to deal with all the extra traffic during December.

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing the photos, they (and the questions concerning the meaning of all those Santas) made me smile this Monday Morning.