Fall is by far my favorite time of the year.  September 1st you will find me dripping in sweat from the Texas second summer heat as I dig through the dozens of orange and green storage tubs stacked floor to ceiling in my backyard storage shed.  After hours of lifting off tops and peering inside, I drag out dozens of metal decorative pumpkins in an array of sizes, shapes, and shades of orange.  After that are the several pairs of scarecrows with their straw sticking out from underneath patched hats and protruding from shirt sleeves and pants legs.  They look a little worn but that just gives them more character! We greet each other with a smile as I adjust their pieces of straw and carry them to the front yard.  Next I’m off to the garden center.  Although my flower beds are still bursting with pinks, reds, and violets from my Gerber daisies, lantanas, begonias, and petunias, I happily shop for yellow, maroon, and purple mums to add to my summer blend.  With just a glance at my front yard, it is easy to see fall is most certainly my favorite. 


By the time I flip the calendar to October, I am once again rummaging through tubs in my storage shed and find my tubs filled with happy Halloween friends and fiends.  My smile rivals that of the happiest jack-o-lantern! I love to fill my home and yard with silly ghosts, friendly goblins, green-faced witches with big moles on their noses, and crooked smiling pumpkins.  

All these favorites find their way to crowded book shelves and fireplace mantles or get tucked in amongst piles of pumpkins and mums.  Then, all I have to do is shop for the trick-or-treat candy and demand restraint from my daughter, Dotty, and myself so we don’t eat it all before Halloween night. 


November brings cooler temperatures and a busier work schedule for me, so when it’s time to change out for Thanksgiving décor I usually gather up my Halloween treasures hurriedly one dark evening after work.  I pile them up on my back porch and throw a sheet over them to protect them from the elements and to protect me from seeing them when I pass the window.  My pumpkins and scarecrows from September welcome the addition of a few fat turkeys to the mix.  “Tom the Turkey” is our six-foot blowup pal who sits prominently in the front yard for the thirty days of fame he gets each year.  He welcomes me home after each long workday with a wobble of his oversized head and a wave of his nylon tail.  Fall is still my favorite, but, like the leaves on the trees, I am just barely hanging on some days. 


Christmas is a whole other story.  Come December I am running on Dr. Pepper, Aleve, and very little sleep.  My Christmas cheer is reserved for the hours of 9am to 5pm and for the customers who come in to shop at the Pecan Shed (our family’s retail store).  When the closed sign is put up, so is my holly jolly spirit for the evening.  I am not quite the Grinch, but I’m definitely a not too distant cousin.


Over the years, Dotty and I have put up a Christmas tree adorned with family ornaments and the cherished creations Dotty made in elementary school classrooms.  These parental keepsakes are decorated with love by little hands and lots of glue and glitter that still flakes off on the floor almost five years later.  Some years I’ve even unboxed my grandmother’s Christmas village and told Dotty stories of Grandma Montz and her house this time of year.  I love sharing my memories of my grandma with Dotty, laughing at the funny ones and wiping away a tear at the tender ones.  Sharing these memories helps me to build new memories with Dotty and for that I am always grateful. 


There have been years when the tinsel of the tree, the tangle of lights, and the pile of gifts have filled my home by early December.  And then there have been those years where Dotty has asked me on December 20th if we are even going to have a Christmas at all.  One year when I had moved that summer into a new home next to a Catholic church, the elderly nuns there came over with rosaries in hand to basically ask me if I knew Jesus.  I was confused at first.  With furrowed brows and concerned eyes they stated how I seemed to really celebrate Halloween but not Christmas.  As they patted my dry cracked knuckles with their soft age spotted hands, I stifled a laugh and quickly hurried into my house to grab my nativity scene (luckily it was close at hand but sadly it was still in the box).  With a tired smile I assured them I did in fact know Jesus and was just very busy with work in December.  I promised them that even though my house was dark and undecorated, my heart and soul were filled with the light and love of Jesus Christ.  I’m sure I was still on their prayer list but in December I will take all the prayers I can get!              


Last Christmas was our first with our adorable new kitten, Rae.  We soon discovered a Christmas tree is to a cat what Mount Everest is to a thrill seeking outdoor enthusiast.  No matter what I tried, Rae climbed in, knocked over, and chewed through every Christmas item we owned.  So after several “bad kitty” scoldings, a dozen replaced strands of Christmas lights, and two fake trees later, we decided to just hang our stockings inside the house. Even Rae got one although she was definitely on the Naughty List.  Then we decorated the front yard with a trio of merry blowup friends and called it good enough to make the Nice List that year. 


When the middle of January rolled around this year, I finally had the strength, courage, and resolve to lift the sheet on the back porch.  Dotty and I spent a long, blustery cold Sunday afternoon packing away four months’ worth of decorations.  The holiday favorites found their way back into tubs and back into the storage shed in the backyard.  After much exhaustion, frustration, and a few Grinch approved curse word, I declared through chattering teeth, “No decorating in 2020!  None.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  And for our German friends down the block, Nein!” 


Dotty knows not to speak too much when I get in this mood.  She has learned over the years to go blank-faced and robotic.  It’s her survival mode and it breaks my heart to see it and know I have helped her hone it over the years.  Without any emotion and in just the smallest whisper she asked, “Can we at least hang our stockings?” That question stopped me in mid tantrum.  I sighed and softened and hugged her close to say I was sorry for giving her yet another reason to spend hard earned money on a counselor’s couch and said, “Of course we can.  I wonder which tub they are in?” Dotty softly replied, “I think they are in the green long tub.” I took a deep breath and then I turned her to face me. With both of my chilled hands placed firmly on the padded shoulders of her winter coat I asked, “What do you say we get new Christmas stockings this year?” And with that she broke out into a big grin.  Perhaps this particular adventure in parenting will only take up a few minutes of the counseling session someday and not the full hour.  Fingers crossed.


So this year when September rolled around, I stayed nice and cool as I napped to the sound of Hallmark movies and Rae purring on my lap.  When the calendar flipped to October I enjoyed the sights as my neighbors’ yards turned orange, green, black and purple with Halloween décor, but mine stayed tucked away in the backyard shed.  I did get some pumpkins from my brother who has a pumpkin patch every year between the rows of our pecan trees.  November was the same.  Tom and his friends never left their plastic beds in the shed and I wasn’t too sad about it. 

However, now is the real test.  While Christmas comes with a mixed bag of emotions for me and is laced with exhaustion, lack of sleep, and too many empty calories, I have never gone a year with absolutely no effort to decorate and celebrate. We will have stockings.  But that’s it.  No tinsel, no tree, no reindeer, no wreaths, no glitter, no glue, no big to-do.  This year my house will not celebrate Christmas, but my goal is that Dotty and I will. 


My hopes are that by letting myself off the candy cane hook of Christmas decorating guilt I can enjoy more of what makes the holiday extra special.  Instead of spending the free nights we have digging through tubs, untangling lights and yelling at the cat, I pray we find time to snuggle up close and talk about what’s on our hearts and minds.  Instead of dragging out extension cords, I hope we can’t drag ourselves away from spending time with family and friends.  Instead of filling our house with memories of Christmas past, I hope we make lots of new memories beyond the walls of our home.  Like the Grinch realized, so will we…


“What if Christmas doesn’t come from a store.

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”


Of course this grand idea of not decking the halls, walls, or walkways might backfire on me.  I might realize that Dotty and I miss the tinsel and the tangle even if it comes with a little tantrum and some childhood trauma.  If that’s the case, then I can always fling open the backyard shed.  Or we can head to the holy land of all things that glitter…Hobby Lobby.  Because the truth about Christmas is a child was born who came to save us all from our sins.  Jesus came, offering love and forgiveness.  And this year I plan to offer that as well…especially to myself. 

Off the Candy Cane Hook
by Jill Montz

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