By Bob Huber
Here at Christmas Central where credit cards grow on trees, I’m recalling the time I draped yuletide lights on a pine shrub in our front yard. After the holidays I chopped down that bush in a fit of hay fever, so the next year I had to improvise a new display to keep up with my colorful neighbors.
My fresh creation was a wooden structure made of old laths and studded with blue lights, but my wife Marilyn wouldn’t have it. She said, “It looks like an abandoned cotton gin,” and I agreed, although I secretly preferred a Hiroshima water tower.
So anyway, I was forced to quell neighborhood snickering by telling a big lie. I told everyone the structure was a Finnish Yule Hall replica, symbolizing the legendary Grandfather Nyert, who introduced saunas to Finland (pronounced Smells-Like-Fish).
Nyert, the legend went, was of yuletide importance second only to Santa Claus, but without a Coca-Cola endorsement. The blue lights represented itsy-bitsy Finnish angels who each year floated south from the North Pole to help Grandfather Nyert build saunas and fill socks with ryebread cup cakes.
I explained that in Finland, the big holiday joy was sitting around naked in steamy, hot rooms until you looked like a roasted turkey eating ryebread cup cakes.
But my story went too far, because one day a newspaper guy called for a story with pictures. I put him off saying Christmas came early in Finland to prevent death by freezing. In keeping with this tradition, I said, I had removed the Yule Hall and stored it in our bedroom with the livestock.
But before I could rush outside and tear down the display, a TV reporter also called for two minutes of my Finnish Yule Hall for the 5 p.m. news. She was skeptical when I relayed the early Christmas yarn, so I said it wasn’t a good time anyway, because my smallpox lesions were still contagious.
Then a school teacher called and wanted to bring by her first-graders to partake of my unique Christmas sculpture. I asked her, “Where did you hear about me?”
“A cryptic note,” she replied. “Everyone in our school got one.”
So I tore down the Yule Hall and replaced it with a fake wooden tree and new lights. It was straight, strong, unimaginative, and carved out of old book shelves. I painted it green, and Marilyn was a little easier to get along with.
Our neighbors were happy too. In fact, they called it urban renewal in action. They also said they were glad I finally went along with good old fashioned American decorations and chucked those silly European notions.
Then one night the doorbell rang, and there stood a chubby young woman of obvious Nordic stock. She wore a hat of lemming fur and leggings of painted seal skin, and she spoke in halting English. She said her name was Pilgemar.
“We already bought Girl Scout cookies,” I said, but she shook her head and stamped her foot. Tears ran down her fat cheeks as she fumbled for words to explain that she was a homesick foreign exchange student from Finland, and this was the first Christmas spent away from hot saunas and ryebread cup cakes.
Naturally, my mouth dropped open and I gawked at her, but she brushed aside my blank expression and grabbed my sweater, pulling me down to her level. She was strong, probably reared on whale blubber and rack of yak.
“I’m begging you,” she said, “for Grandfather Nyert’s sake, resurrect the Finnish Yule Hall!”
I should pause here to state that my wife Marilyn, in her prime, was a world class practical gagster. She thought Pilgemar, who turned out to be a Navajo drama student from our local college, was the cleverest stunt she’d ever drummed up, not to mention the reporters and first-graders.
In fact, while Pilgemar was grabbing my sweater and threatening me, Marilyn was on the phone to her mother, saying, “Got him again, Mom.” She said my yelping while struggling with Pilgemar was sweeter than all the silver bells on Christmas Eve.
So I gave up — no more competitive Christmas decorations. Still, I’ve often thought a Teutonic Yule Hall made of rusty Volkswagen parts, along with some bratwurst and schnapps, would be a fine holiday tradition at our home.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.