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Christmas lights in July by Joe Harwell

In July 1970, when I was 16, my family took a short trip across the state line from Oklahoma to Arkansas to visit relatives. Frequent Sunday trips to Arkansas were a regular thing since my parents moved from there to Poteau, OK when I was a year old in 1955. By 1970, most of the grandparents had passed but other extended family remained. Having obtained my driver’s license a few weeks earlier, I was the chauffeur.

Family trips to Arkansas began from our home east of Poteau on section line roads to an Oklahoma state highway which became an Arkansas state highway at the border. The trip from point to point was less than an hour. After a long day of visiting, we made our way back home as darkness fell with me at the helm of our trusty, 1963 Chevrolet Impala.

Crossing into Oklahoma, I turned onto county roads at the town of Monroe for the last leg of the trip. As we proceeded north and west on section line roads, the moonless sky was clear with lights from farmhouses visible for miles in every direction. Our ranch-style home, which dad built in the 1960s, sat on a little rise with a good view of the surrounding area. My younger sister and I always looked for our house when we returned home from these trips during daylight hours. The bright red house with a white roof was visible to our trained eyes from several miles away and we knew exactly where we could begin to see it.

Topping the small hill where we usually saw our house from the farthest distance, I noticed a string of lights which quickly disappeared as the car descended below the hilltop. I instantly knew what the string of lights was about and called out to my sister who was in the back seat with our mother. She was already leaning over the seat because she noticed the lights too.

As we got closer to home, our parents saw the lights. Dad put Christmas lights on the edge of the roof the first year the house was built. Because we lived in the country and not in town, he left the lights up year round and plugged them into exterior outlets from Thanksgiving through the new year. As usual, there was some disagreement between our parents about this, but dad’s argument of taking down and putting the lights up each year uncharacteristically won out.

As our parents discussed who could be responsible for plugging in the Christmas lights this time of year, my sister and I speculated which of our friends could be the culprit. As the house came into full view, the multicolored Christmas lights were like a beacon in the dark July night. By this time, both our parents were close to being mad about it while sis and I added to our list of suspects.

Pulling across the cattle guard and onto the driveway, I parked the car and jumped out, barely able to contain my laughter over someone plugging in the Christmas lights in July. As dad walked up onto the front porch to unplug the lights, he noticed a note stuck to the screen door. He read it and began smiling and finally laughed out and said, “James was here.”

His younger brother, James, from Muskogee, along with his wife Betty, and their daughter, Teri came by earlier for a surprise visit. Not finding us home, they speculated we were visiting relatives across the state line and left the note confessing to plugging in the Christmas lights. After Christmas that year, dad and I took down the lights so we wouldn’t fall victim to relatives or other pranksters who could plug them in some time other than during the holidays.

Here is a photo of my father, John (L), with his brother, James (R), taken at a family reunion in the 1970s, both smartly dressed in white, patent-leather belts and polyester pants. Both possessed a great sense of humor which is evident by the grins on their faces. Not all my childhood memories of the holidays are pleasant, but this one of Christmas lights on a dark night in July is a good one.

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