Learning the art of exterior illumination

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, December 3, 2016

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Growing up in the Greene household, the day after Thanksgiving never involved trips to jam-packed stores fighting over the latest gadgets or new electronics.

Instead, it was my father’s day to turn our little two-bedroom home into something akin to a lit runway with red and white lights shining from every corner of the house and any nearby vegetation.

I recall it starting with just a few strands of lights, but soon after “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” came out, my father found a new standard.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

As his lone son still living at home, I became his little South Pole elf to help create his fantastic display of exterior illumination.

Climbing up and down the antenna tower that doubled as a ladder with strand after strand of lights to clip onto the roof, I often voiced my displeasure. I longed to be on the couch with a turkey sandwich watching Texas and Texas A&M play. (Yes, kids. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the state’s largest two universities played annually in football.)

After a 10-hour shift, the lights came on that night, and I’m sure the Cooke County Electric Co-op flipped an extra switch to supply enough power. We joked that planes would need to be directed away, so they wouldn’t try to land at the house.

But the marathon day of decorating on Friday was just the start. A few trips to town later resulted in extra lights and extension cords. Over the next 30 days, the display would evolve with dad designing a Christmas tree with PVC pipe and wire or finding a way to hang Santa over the house.

As a teen, I didn’t understand my father’s labor of love. I didn’t know if he was trying to impress neighbors or just make my mother happy.

Nearly 20 years later on a Black Friday, I wandered through the aisle of a general store where the Christmas lights were and suddenly a few strands of lights found there way into my basket. Then the rest of the day was spent in the yard putting out lights. There were more trips to the store and additions made until Christmas.

Over the past few years and at a second residence, more lights have been added, along with several creative displays. (There’s more than a subtle tip of the cap to Star Wars.)

But now I get it. Dad wasn’t really trying to impress anyone or win an award. While he wore a broad smile when a car stopped in front of the house to gawk for a few minutes, this was about making memories for him and the family. It’s something I can now truly appreciate, though winning the Clark Griswold Award in the neighborhood would be a nice feather in the cap.

Most of all, I hope dad would say the house is “a beaut.”

I can honestly tell him, like Clark, “Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination.”

Richard Greene is the Messenger’s sports editor.

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