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Sixty-Something: The Magic Of Outdoor Christmas Lights

T.J. Clemente

While I'm decorating outside I flashback to my dad, to my years with my children and finally how much I still love coming home to our house all lit up for Christmas. (Photo courtesy of the author)

My very first memory of Christmas lights was watching my dad on a huge ladder 30 feet in the air attaching round blue Christmas lights to the roof of our three story two family home in the late 1950's. I was 4-years-old about to turn 5 just before Christmas. I watched in total amazement, now looking back that was quite a feat and he did it all by himself. Three years later we moved to Pelham Manor, N.Y. to a home he eventually passed away 39 wonderful years later. He died with his complete family of 22 around him.

I don't remember when it became my chore to decorate the front of that house with lights but I know I never did it the same way twice. It also was never precise like dad did. I never had his gift of precision. My mom would look it and say, "Next time don't rush." Too many times it seemed to get real cold as I did it.

My first family home after moving out of dad's place was a luxury high-rise condo (47 floors) building on the Hudson River, but in New Jersey. Quite frankly I bought it because every night looking at New York City seemed like Christmas with all the buildings twinkling and the multi colored Empire State Building dominating the night sky. I remember hanging Christmas lights around the inside of the huge and tall windows that faced the city. It was a thrill for me to be driving on the West Side Drive, in New York City and look across at the huge condo building complex and easily spot my apartment due to our Christmas lights.

Eventually because of school issues I moved back to Pelham not more than one mile from where I grew up. My daughters where then 3 and 5-years-old and they watched me hang the Christmas lights around our new home just like I watched my dad. Sadly it never measured up to the precise job he did, but the end result still said Christmas. For whatever reason it seemed I had to buy new lights every year so no two years were exactly the same.

Around fourteen years ago I was assigned to write a story about those wonderful but crazy homes with the unbelievable Christmas light displays. I was made aware of a home in Southampton that belonged to Mr. Bill Frankenbach of Southampton on the corner of Elm and Post Crossing. He has since passed away. This gentleman made his living selling Christmas trees, ornaments and lights! After he retired, for the sake of his grandchildren, he added a new section of Christmas light decorations to his home every Christmas season. Since Bill lived a very long life post retirement his outdoor home Christmas light display was worthy of a Disney special. He claimed the home display had over 10,000 lights with numerous Santa's ! When I interviewed Bill, he told me he loved to watch the cars come up to his house and "watch the children get out of the car just marveling at all the Christmas lights and decorations." Mrs. Frankenbach said, "Hearing the young voices brought them great joy." She also mentioned she thought Bill was "nuts because of the huge electric bill," but she also told me she understood how important it was to him.

Now I am sixty-something and my children live many hundreds of miles away. I live in East Patchoque, with my wife Cindi, and I still put up the lights every Christmas. Perhaps I do it in memory of every Christmas I ever had. While I'm decorating outside I flashback to my dad, to my years with my children and finally how much I still love coming home to our house all lit up for Christmas.




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