“You can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles three things…
a rainy day, an ill loved one, and tangled Christmas lights."
–Verses 4 Cards
It all started when I heard the weather forecast for last Saturday—sunny with a light breeze and unseasonable high of seventy degrees. According to my husband, everything went downhill the moment I shut off the television, turned to him, and said, “I think Saturday will be a great day to hang the Christmas lights on the roof of the house.”
My husband is afraid of only a few things—snakes, hair loss, me, and heights. As a result, every year we’ve draped Christmas lights over the bushes in front of our house instead of outlining our roof with an elaborate display of twinkling lights. Unfortunately last summer, a gang of hungry beetles ate our bushes and along with them, any hope for my husband getting out of climbing a ladder this holiday season.
So it was with great reluctance and plenty of paranoia that my husband pulled the extension ladder out of the garage last weekend and propped it up on the house. He stood at the bottom of the ladder and looked up with so much trepidation, I swore he was about to climb Mount Everest. As he adjusted the ladder and breathed into a lunch bag in an attempt to stop his hyperventilating, he said, “Did you know that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently reported that each year there are more than 164,000 ladder-related injuries that are serious enough to require treatment in emergency rooms?”
As I handed him the first string of lights, I thought it best not to mention that I had tried for three hours earlier that morning to untangle that string of lights to no avail. I held the bottom of the ladder as he began climbing—the string of lights in his teeth—one rung at a time. His breath quickened with each step up. “Oh God,” I heard him say as he reached the tenth rung. “Oh Mary Mother of God,” he murmured when he reached the twelfth rung. When he reached the fifteenth rung, he yelled, “I’m so close to heaven, I can see the pearly gates!” He clung to the ladder with both hands and froze. “I can’t … I can’t … I can’t let go,” he hoarsely whispered. The string of lights hung from his mouth. As a light breeze wafted past his head, he screamed, “These forty-mile-an-hour winds are going to blow me right off this ladder!”
I thought I heard him start to cry. That’s when I knew I had to take immediate action. I began barking orders like a drill sergeant. “Take a hook out of your pocket. Hang it on the gutter. Then fasten the lights on the hook.” He looked like a chimpanzee as he clung to the ladder with one leg and one arm and began hanging hooks, following my orders like a robot.
“Hey, this isn’t so bad,” he said a few minutes later just as another light breeze blew a few leaves out of the gutter. “Oh Good Lord above!” he yelled. “Have I mentioned how much I hate heights?”
As he moved the ladder along the house, inch-by-inch, I tried not to notice the big knots of lights that hung precariously from the hooks like brilliant snowballs. “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” I muttered to myself as I handed him another snarled string of lights.
Six hours later, he climbed down from the ladder for the last time. “Look at that,” he said proudly as he put his arm around me and gazed up at the roof. The lights weren’t perfectly aligned or even untangled, but we both already knew that the holidays were not about being perfect, but just about being together.
“Let’s get this ladder put away and go inside and celebrate you conquering your fears today,” I said as I smiled up at him.
“Great idea,” he replied as he pulled the ladder away from the house and all the Christmas lights with it.
Next year, we’re hiring it done.