CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This is a story about one of the less-discussed aspects of that most glorious, most wonderful time of the year.
I speak of the yearly obligation that falls upon the broad but rapidly stooping shoulders of aging dads. For it is to us dads that the task falls to head roofward to hang Christmas lights and otherwise decorate the house to keep up with the Joneses.
But not, thankfully, the Mormons -- or at least my neighborhood's Mormons. I don't know about yours.
The box arrives
I live with two female Christmasaholics. This can be a challenge.
One is a wife, the other an 18-year-old daughter. They begin to agitate for the playing of Christmas music soon after the stuffing grows cold about 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
I am only slightly exaggerating. We have a lot of Christmas CDs. Every holiday tune James Taylor ever sang (he sang a lot). David Archuleta and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. A Sinatra Christmas. A Celtic Christmas. A Martini Christmas. Christmas with the Flintstones.
I might have made that last one up.
But so it is that I return to the house the day after Thanksgiving to be greeted by the gale-force winds of Josh Groban belting "Little Drummer Boy."
"Isn't that a little loud?" I ask, my pancreas throbbing in time to the beat.
"Dad," says my daughter, flicking back her hair in a gesture I have christened the Are You Paying Attention, Father, bat signal.
"Do you see that?" she asks.
I look down. A rectangular cardboard box rests smack-dab in the middle of the living room.
Scrawled on the box are the words "Christmas lights, outdoors."
It has begun.
Up on the roof
The thing you must understand, you children, wives and people who have never visited a roof, is that we older dads -- or, at least, this well-seasoned dad -- do not really all that much like being up on roofs and ladders.
Sure, the first few decades you climb up onto a roof, it's cool. Hey, look, you can see the old cemetery from up here!
At a certain age, clarity sets in. One slip on the ladder, one misplaced foot on the roof, and you are not only a new resident of the old cemetery, but everyone you know is tut-tutting about how it went down.
"Did you hear? He died while hanging Christmas lights!" "That is so sad!"
And pathetic. As well as dweebish.
For are we not men? Are we not capable dads?
The problem is, I am surrounded by far more capable dads. One set of neighbors has spectacularly lined the entire outline of their house in multicolored icicle lights. Another has adopted a magenta-themed display with matching magenta wreaths. Another has cool strips of lights swirling expertly through the branches of trees, a look I've never mastered.
"Why can't our Christmas lights do that?" my daughter challenges, as we pass the spectacular house, which looks like God airbrushed all its edges with sparkly rainbows.
I say nothing. It is better not to goad Christmasaholics.
I'm thinking, "If we were Hindus, this would not be a problem."
A hard rain
Or a Mormon, of the sort that live near me.
My little pièce de résistance this year is a fairly pathetic row of "cascading LED energy efficient icicle lights" hung over the front porch whose "blink speed" (this is a technical term) can be controlled by a green knob.
I only almost tip off the ladder once. Then it begins to rain. What's that Dylan song about rain? Excuse me, as I consult Google ... "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Yes, that's it.
That kind of rain. A cold, mean rain. As I step down the ladder to escape it, my Mormon neighbor pulls up into his driveway. "Is everything OK?" he calls over to me, getting out.