Five Doors Down

THE HORNS LIVED FIVE DOORS DOWN FROM US. They were the first on our street to have a colored television. Lorna was a year younger than me, and relished (just a little too much) describing Dorothy Gale’s ruby-red slippers, or portraying Casper the Friendly Ghost as being a “lovely light pink.” The Horns were the only family to have a two-storied house or a built-in pool (which Lorna referred to as their “pooh” — as in, “you can’t swim in my pooh”). Mr. Horn sold insurance and bought a new car every year while Mrs. Horn gave piano lessons and hosted bridge parties.

At Christmas the Horns decorated their house with alternating blue and green lights, unlike everyone else on the street who decorated with every color at their disposal. Ma said Mrs. Horn had told her that their house looked very elegant and subtle, while the rest of the street was lit up like circus tents. No house on our street boasted as many Christmas lights as the Horns’. “Subtle” was how Ma referred to their blue and green lights as we’d drive by, but she said it in a way that made me wonder what she meant.

The Horns were the only family to have an outdoor nativity. We all had crib sets in our homes, but only the Horns had one outside, just like a church. Its thigh-high figures were comprised of silhouetted shepherds, kings, and the Holy Family, all cut from plywood, painted black, placed in front of a white stable, and situated beneath their immense spruce. Two glaring floodlights illuminated the sacred scene.

This tableau of light and shadow captivated me completely. Lifeless cutouts cast shimmering shadows that moved independently of one another as headlights traveled up and down our street. It was unearthly the way these spectral forms interacted; they made it easy for me to imagine Mary’s outpouring of love for her newborn, and Joseph’s concern at having landed them in a dusty stable. I empathized with the shepherds and kings as they paid homage to Baby Jesus. This glorious scene transported me from Fennville directly to Bethlehem. So moved was I that I dropped to my knees to offer up an eight-year-old’s prayer. Making the sign of the cross like the good Catholic boy that I was, my reverie was shattered by an unexpected bam, bam, bam from the Horn’s front window.

“Danny Powers! You get outta my yard!” came Lorna’s muffled cry from inside their front window. “Ma! Danny is prayin’ to our crib set again!”

I jumped up and raced home as fast as the knee-deep snow allowed. I flew down our basement steps to rid myself of wet boots, wet coat, wet leggings, wet hat, wet mittens and scarf. By the time I got up to the kitchen, my glasses had fogged over and I could barely make out Ma as she hung up the phone. Despite my clouded lenses, I could tell that she had just gotten off the phone with Mrs. Horn. Again.