“Where are you going?” I asked Roger.
“Kmart,” he said with a serious face.
“Again?” I asked.
“I just need one more bulb and a short extension cord.”
“Don’t you think we have enough cords?” I asked.
“It’ll only be ten bucks. Tye, put shoes on and come with me to Kmart.”
“Can I get a candy bar?” Tye asked.
“Fine,” Roger answered.
After they left for the ten-minute drive to Kmart, I internally celebrated my win. Earlier, I won an argument Roger and I had where he wanted to put up an entire sheet of plywood in our small Shamrock living room to “expand the village.” That’s what he called it, “The Village” like it was some type of superior being.
After about an hour, they came home from the store with more bags than ten dollars could afford, including a plastic bag of batting to represent snow, some one-inch figurines of fire fighters shoveling around a fire hydrant and some drunk men with their arms around each other singing and holding up pint glasses. Tye was eating a king-size Snickers.
I didn’t touch the village but was in charge of decorating the rest of the house. We all trimmed the tree and it was always evident if there was a toddler in the house due to the clumps of the heaviest and shiniest ornaments gathered at the very bottom branches.
Roger’s tongue would rest between his front teeth while he was setting up The Village houses. He had a pub, a library, a five-n-dime store with toys and books in the window, and he always centered the church which stood the tallest. (I remember one year while he was setting up the village I wanted to give him an early gift, the firehouse, but I waited.) The lights were simply not allowed to be turned on until each house, person, evergreen, and batting was nestled in its place, and it was always a grand gesture where the boys and I would stand in a clump watching while he turned it on.
“Shit,” he said. “I need to replace this bulb. Close your eyes.” He was still in his marine cammies. We all closed our eyes.
He would then replace the bulb and announce the second attempt at lighting. No matter how annoyed I was at the annual process, that moment when the living room was dark and we all stood around waiting to see light, I never took for granted. I usually had a boy on my hip and our pups would watch, too. Roger, hands on hips, would stand back and admire his work. It signaled the beginning of our Christmas season.
Now that Roger is no longer with us, I hold the responsibility of setting up The Village that we now call “Dad’s Village.” It took me years to do it without crying the entire time. As the years passed, the crying turned into some anger because I put so much pressure on myself to set it up perfectly, and more like he would than I would.
In recent years, I have found true joy in the process. This year, I so look forward to setting up The Village in our new home. Some of the pieces are broken but we just cover the chips and cracks with fake snow. Some of the people are missing hands and the barn mice nested in the old batting so we replaced that. It’s healing to look into the tiny windows and imagine people in the village houses sipping coffee or praying. When it’s dark outside we will turn off all the lights and leave the warm village ones on. We feel Roger so close to us, maybe more during The Village time than any other.