“So what do you think?” asked my buddy Alner, displaying his Christmas purchases. “Look at this. It’s a drone that flies around the house flashing red and green lights. Isn’t that neat for the holidays?”
I sighed. “Far be it from me to diss technology, Alner. But there is something to be said for a more traditional approach to decking the halls this time of year.”
He’d no sooner sneered “oh, sure” than he realized his mistake and tried to hotfoot it from his car to his front door. But before he could get his key out, we were taking a little trip to times past.
“You’d think I’d know better by now,” my neighbor grumbled as we trudged along the snow-covered street.
I pointed to the building we were passing. “Notice anything unusual about this department store with the nicely decorated show windows?”
“Hey, the windows are just pictures,” he said, touching one of them. “And the front door doesn’t open. What kind of place is this?”
“Congratulations, old buddy,” I said, patting him on the back. “We are in a little Christmas town set under a tree, back around 1950 or so.”
“You mean we’re …”
“Yes, not only do I have the power of metaphysical travel, but I can also shrink us down to a size suitable for a Lionel Train display. It’s all temporary, of course. Now let’s continue on our way.”
“Does this town have a name?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “It’s the Christmas town my dad built way back when. Every December, we’d clear out a room and put it on a huge platform, which was a feat of engineering and required that he learn electrical work and carpentry. Like these buildings?”
“They do look real. There’s a movie theater down the block, with a marquee and show posters.”
“Sure is. He’d cut out individual words and letters from the newspaper to make signs and some tiny pictures from the movie page for the displays out front. You know, I can almost smell the popcorn.”
“Funny kind of snow. Not wet.”
“It’s artificial snow, from a box. But it glistens like the real stuff on these sidewalks. They’re wooden slats painted to look like concrete. Take a gander at the streetlights. They’re plastic, and they light up at night.”
“I could almost live in a place like this,” said Alner, surveying the street and intersection.
“I think that was the idea,” I said. “People with craftsman skills built their little towns to show they valued neighborliness and good values. My dad sneered at plastic snap-together Christmas buildings from a box. He’d buy pasteboard, paint and glue and build his own from scratch.”
“Hey, what’s that rumbling?”
I pointed to the rail crossing down the street. “What’s a Christmas village without a train? There are handmade freight and passenger stations here, and if you’ll look over yonder you’ll find a mountain. No dirt, though — it’s chicken wire over a wood frame, then plastered, shaped and painted to look like the real thing in winter. The train runs through it.”
I decided to take us back home.
“Well, kind of puts my high-tech stuff …”
“To shame,” I said. “So what’s next? Building your own town?”
“I’d electrocute myself,” said Alner. “Gotta check the paper. I understand there are some nice railroad displays for the public to see.”
“And your Christmas drone?”
“I’ll hang it in the window. My wreath is getting kind of ratty.”
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]