It is early December and holiday decorations are already being displayed all over our small town. Our weekly newspaper has reported the annual residential decoration contest will be judged on Wednesday, the fourteenth of December. The article stated there will be the traditional three prizes. First place will be awarded one hundred dollars, second place seventy-five dollars and third place fifty dollars. The winners will have signs place prominently in their yards.
Last year's first place winner, a house on Oak Street with the most lights and a synchronized seasonal music sound track is already completed, attracting several dozen cars a night to view the show. The race to exhibit spectacular lights and sounds is underway.
On the east side of town at the Cibolo Creek Senior Center, five men, all old timers and residents of the center, are working on the lawn in front of the limestone building. They are sawing, hammering, and painting the plywood necessary to construct a life-sized nativity scene, complete with Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, a cow, two sheep and three chickens. The men bicker good naturedly about colors and placement of people and animals, but, all in all, construction goes smoothly. They complete the project in one day.
After dark, the men install the finishing touches to the display: a single spotlight and a large sign that reads MERRY CHRISTMAS. Satisfied with their work, but still bickering good naturedly, they return inside the limestone building entering at the glass doors of the main entrance, leaving the silent nativity scene to shine out of the darkness.
About the same time as the nativity scene is completed, the Thurman family is having supper at the kitchen table in their house on Ridge Street. It is a family of four. There is J.B., husband of Molly and father of their two sons, Hunter age eight and his brother Tom age five.
After J.B. said grace the family began digging into a meal of meat loaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. They ate quietly for a short period, and then J.B. said to Molly, "Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day Granddad Thurman was killed in a fire fight in the jungles of Viet Nam. That was December 8, 1971. Will you get the flag out and hang it in the front window?"
"Yes, of course," she replied. "Do you want to leave it displayed for a week as we have been doing?"
"No, this year is special. It's the forth-fifth anniversary. Let's leave it up until New Year's Day."
The topic of conversation changed when Hunter, talking with a mouth full of mashed potatoes, asked, "What Christmas decorations are we going to put on our front yard? Everyone is putting lights up." He did not want to be left out.
"We won't have many decorations this year," Molly responded, a trace of sadness in her voice. "You know money is pretty tight this year, because your Dad was temporarily laid off from his job in the Alaskan oil fields."
"Maybe we could win some prize money."
J.B. interjected with cynicism, "Now, Hunter you know that the first-place prize money will go to the house with the most lights and the second-place prize money will go to the house with the next most lights and so on." J.B. sighed, then continued, "We can't compete with the houses with thousands of lights and music. It costs too much."
"Maybe we could be competitive with a better idea. Let's put our thinking caps on," Molly said.
"I want more meat loaf."
J.B. passed the meat loaf to Hunter and asked, "What have we got to work with?"
"The angel, Dad. Remember the angel?" Tom said, playing with the green beans on his plate.
"Hmmm," J.B. said. "You mean the metal framed angel with white lights and a flute?"
Nodding happily, Tom said, "Yeah, that one." Still nodding, he added, "I like angels."
"Where is it?" J.B. asked Molly. "The attic? The shed?"
"I think it's in the attic," she replied.
"I'll go look after supper."
"Okay. We have an angel and some lights. We need something more to make our Christmas display special," Molly said.
There was no reply, only the sounds of eating.
"Am I the only one with a thinking cap on?" Molly asked. She was ignored as J.B. and the boys just kept eating. "Well then, how about some geese decoys?" Molly asked. Grandpop had at least a half dozen he used when he went goose hunting. With his heart condition, I don't think he has been goose hunting in ten years."
"I like ducks," Tom said, still playing with his green beans.
"Geese," Hunter corrected him. "Geese!"
"Yeah, ducks," Tom said, nodding his head vigorously. "Quack. Quack. Quack." he added, sticking his lips out to imitate a duck's bill.
"GEESE," Hunter said in a loud voice.
Molly intervened, "Ducks. Geese. They're all birds. Doesn't matter." She paused and then said happily, "Hey, this is working out pretty good. Now we have a theme and it isn't more lights than anyone else. I'll call Grandpop and see if I can borrow the decoys for a while," Molly said as she went to the telephone in the living room.
Grandpop delivered seven geese decoys in his old blue pickup truck the next day. He helped Molly arrange them on the lawn, after putting two string of white lights on the ground under the geese to simulate snow.
Tom tried to help with the display, frequently sticking out his lips and saying, "Quack, quack, quack." Then he would pause and add, "Quack, quack."
The next day, J.B. came home with good news. He was hired as seasonal help at Walmart, working the midnight shirt restocking the shelves. Perhaps, they could buy more light strings and a spotlight. Meanwhile, J.B. was working on a sign that would read: THE ANGEL'S GEESE.
On the eleventh of December, an unexpected expense occurred that changed the family budget. The water pump on the family Ford sedan started to leak and the car had to be towed to the garage. It was repaired in two days, but J.B. and Molly decided they would only buy one more string of lights. There would be no spotlight, which meant the geese would be dimly lit up at night and would be ghosts in the shadows. The sign would be noticeable, but unreadable from the street.
Although nearly invisible at night, the geese stood out on the lawn in daylight. They were decoys made to look real. When the wind blew, each goose appeared to move, adding to the realism.
People strolling on the Ridge Street sidewalks would stop and say to each other, "They are real. I know they are real. See the one with its' head up. It just moved!" One grandmother asked Moly if it was okay to photograph her three-year-old granddaughter standing in the flock of geese. "Of course," Molly said.
On Monday, the twelfth of December, Molly woke at three am. She was thirsty, so she got out of bed, put a robe on and walked in the dark toward the kitchen. As she walked quietly in the silent house, she imagined she heard a choir singing Hark the Herald Angel Sing, because the sound of the carol was floating softly through the house. Thinking she had forgotten to turn off the portable radio used to provide Christmas music, she switched on the kitchen light. To her surprise, the caroling stopped. She checked the radio, but it was off. Puzzled, she filled a glass with water from the refrigerator, turned off the light and went back to the bedroom, thinking she must have been dreaming.
On Tuesday, the thirteenth of December, a cold front whistled through town rearranging many displays. The wind blew a goose into the rose bush by the garage door and sent three geese tumbling down the street. J.B. chased them down in the dark using a flashlight. Then he put the flock in the garage for safekeeping.
Early the next morning, Wednesday the fourteenth of December, Grandpop and Molly reconstructed the display, because this was the day decorations would be judged. That night just before the judges drove up Ridge Street, the lights in the Thurman display became brighter, as if there was a power surge. The brighter lights illuminated the geese and the sign so that everything in the display was clearly visible. The colors of the American flag were vivid.
Nonetheless, the results were as expected. The house on Oak Street won first place for the third consecutive year. Second and third place were also awarded to homes with the most lights, but this year, a strange thing happened when the contest results were published in the town newspaper on Monday the nineteenth of December.
The seasonal contest results article reported First place $100.00 to 562 Oak Street, Second place $75.00 to 325 Windsor Street and Third place $50.00 to 760 Oxford Street. Underneath this information was a picture of the lighted angel with a flute, seven geese positioned in front of the living room window covered by an American flag. The photograph was taken during the judging when the lights were very bright, so all three of the decorations were clearly visible. The colors of the American flag were clear, sharp and bright. The photograph was captioned Honorable Mention. A small footnote stated that American Legion Post 235 voted it first place.
Molly was surprised and delighted when she retrieved the newspaper from the driveway and unrolled it and saw a large photograph of her house on the front page.
As soon as she re-entered the house, she excitedly called out, "Hunter! Tom! Come look at the paper. Our house is on the front page!"
"That's awesome," Hunter said.
"Yes. I can't wait to call Grandpop. He'll be very proud his geese are on the front page!"
The entire family was happy and proud that their display was awarded Honorable Mention.
Five days later, on Christmas Eve, pride and joy still lingered from being awarded Honorable Mention. This joy was rekindled as they left the house by the front door and walked to the five-year-old Ford sedan with a new water pump parked in the driveway, because they all passed by the sign in front of the geese. That sign had the word HONORABLE MENTION in white letters on a red background.
"Look at that," J.B. said. "Will you look at that?"
"It's special," Molly said. "But, come on J.B. Let's get going. We don't want to be late for Candlelight service. You know how hard it is to find places to sit unless you are fifteen minutes early."
"I'm on it," J.B. responded, speeding up.
A few minutes later, Molly said, "Now you are going too fast."
The Thurman family arrived at the church at eighteen minutes to nine. They took the candles distributed by the ushers and found a place to all sit together. Precisely at nine, the service began by singing the Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
At that exact moment, at 621 Ridge Street, two eyes suddenly opened in the wire framed angel's head. An instant later, the remainder of the angel's body filled in. Then, the angel played Hark the Herald Angels Sing. As the first few notes of the flute caressed the geese, they began to stir. Slowly they swayed in time to the melody of the flute.
Moments later, the angel began to fly, rising slowly from the lawn. As the angel flew upward the flock of geese followed. Now, the angel and the geese were flying upward into the starry night sky, finally disappearing.
On the east side of town at the Cibolo Creek Senior Center building, almost all of the windows were dark, because most seniors went to bed early, even on Christmas Eve. For decades, they had lost the magic of that hold night and none of them expected anything special to happen. However, the nativity scene was still brightly lit by the spotlight focusing on Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus.
Suddenly the angel and the geese appeared as if dropped out of the sky. They landed silently between the spotlight and the nativity scene. Once they were on the ground, the angel began to play the flute again, this time the carol was O Come All Ye Faithful. The geese joined in making a perfect choir, complete with two sopranos, two alto, two tenors and a bass. Although there was no microphone of electronic amplification the sound of the flute and the voices of the choir filled the air. It was so loud, in fact, it prompted lights to quickly appear in the windows of the limestone building.
Shortly thereafter, a thin old man, wrapped in an old gray robe and wearing house slippers open the main door and padded toward the angel, the geese and the nativity scene.
As the second verse began, three women dressed in flowered robes shuffled out of the door and joined the old man, who stood on the concrete drive, transfixed. Other residents of the Cibolo Creek Senior Center excitedly oozed through the glass doors to join the first curious residents on the drive. By the time the choir began to sing the third verse, most of the residents were standing, spellbound, on the drive.
When O Come All Ye Faithfull concluded, there was a brief pause before the angel began to play Silent Night. The residents quickly recognized the carol and smiled happily, as if they were children again. A woman took the first man's hand and held it. Soo everyone was holding hands just like they did in kindergarten. Swept back in time by the flute and the geese singing, they joyfully joined in. At the end of the carol, the angel stopped playing and began to fly, rising slowly, as if waiting for the geese. The geese started to fly also and soon they all disappeared into the stars in a silent sky above the delighted residents.
The Thurman Ford sedan turned onto Lattimore, the main street leading in and out of their subdivision and J.B. exclaimed, "Look at that ... our street is all lit up!"
"It's our house," Hunter said, excitedly. "Not the street."
As they got closer, they could see that the lights were bright again, making the display clearly visible. Surprised, they stared at the angel, the geese and the American flag as J.B. turned into the driveway. He parked the car and turned off the engine and everyone got out. The wire framed angel was brighter than it had been before and the geese were all where they had been earlier. Everything was the same, except for the brightness.
"Perhaps, it's another power surge," Molly said.
"Maybe," J.B. replied.
"Ducks," Tom said. "The ducks are pretty in the light."
"Geese," Hunter corrected. "Geese," he repeated when he was at the front door as everyone started into the house. He always wanted to get in the last word.
"The Angel's Geese. So very special!" Molly said, closing the front door.
After the door close, the geese all winked at the angel, whose beaming face reappeared for a moment, smiling broadly, then the lights dimmed and the Christmas display at 621 Ridge Street was again hidden in the shadows, behind the HONORABLE MENTION sign.