Decking the halls, the posts, the lawn

With 'airblowns' and a smart young apprentice, a father finds new adventure in decorating a home for the holidays

Real Life


It's a Sunday afternoon, and all along our street, fathers and sons are dutifully putting up their holiday decorations. Surely, the NFL's Nielsen ratings have taken a brief dip. It's not clear whether every son is there willingly. But somebody has to steady the ladder and listen to the cursing as each Dad tries, usually without success, to find the one dead bulb amid the 200 mini-lights. How else is a youngster to learn?

My son, Daniel, is exactly 6 3 / 4 years old and this is the first year of his apprenticeship. He's trying his best to be helpful. He twists rope lights around the carriage posts like ribbons around the maypole. But mostly, he's bored. He's waiting for his favorite decorations to emerge from 11 months of hibernation.

Daniel loves our giant snowman and giant Santa Claus, both of which are about 10 times his size. Surely, you've seen their ilk. They're called "airblowns" -- giant plastic decorations kept inflated by a constantly whirring fan. Airblowns are huge. Not only do they come 8 to 10 feet tall but they've invaded the winter landscape in numbers that suggest a vast, if cheerful, army. Most every neighborhood has a few sentries on duty.

I will not try to convince you that airblowns are tasteful or a restrained bit of holiday decor. They look like advertising props and, up close, they sound like a hair dryer was left running on your front lawn.

Airblowns are the Pamela Andersons of lawn ornaments, both gaudy and pneumatic. But they are a magical thing to a 6 3 / 4 -year-old. Assembly requires that no fewer than eight stakes be twisted into the ground to keep the airblowns from flying away in a stiff breeze. With the help of 9-year-old Anna, Daniel's sister, Frosty and Santa are soon waving at passers-by.

When night falls, it becomes clear that the long nap in the garage has not been kind. Frosty is dim. Literally. His lights -- a string of several nightlight-sized bulbs that brighten his interior -- have all burned out. So Daniel and I make a quick run to the drug store.

Finding a single 4-watt bulb in the vastness of an Eckerd is daunting, but it is Daniel who takes the lead. Where I'm content to scan the aisles, he insists we ask a clerk. When I resist, he pulls me forcefully by the hand and leads me to the photo counter. There, Daniel takes out a burned-out bulb and asks, "Where can we find this?"

"Aisle 14, by the baby stuff," the clerk informs Daniel.

I am too shocked to say anything. We soon find the bulbs and take them to the checkout.

Back home, Daniel helps me install the lights. Like all holiday fixtures, they're a bit of a pain to deal with. (We lose several tiny screws in the process). But when it's done, we can step back and admire the glowing snowman. He's now visible from two blocks away. And doesn't the resourceful Daniel seem so much taller, too.

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