“Expect the unexpected” — advice from the blind Master Po to the young Kwai Chang Caine (“Grasshopper”) from the three-year 1970s TV show “Kung Fu.” My dad was a big fan of that show. He would use that quote when he found me learning and growing.
Here is some unexpected stuff I learned.
When my life partner/best friend Cyndee made a simple request to “make some icicle lights” in 1993, I didn’t expect it to turn into what millions of people have come to know as “Wakefield Winter Wonderland.” The somewhat superficial descriptive genesis that has emerged that it “started during the year of the 1994 Northridge earthquake to bring the community together” is not the real experience, I assure you.
I (we) didn’t expect anything back then except to bring some light to otherwise cold and dark December nights. I and a couple neighbors had bonded over home decorations in our young neighborhood. In the first year, it was only our three homes, strung with icicle lights across the street that we fabricated from the straight line lights that were available. One was a gregarious fellow California native, the other a Dayton-Hudson (“Target”) executive. They’re gone now. Cyndee and I are the only remaining original perps.
I didn’t expect that what we were doing “just for fun,” something so simple that anyone could do it, would really catch on. We faced early adversity. I still have the original HOA warnings about the decorations (1992) and a code violation notice from the city (1996). We also have the old copies of The Signal from around the turn of the century where our children were shown participating in the celebrations.
I didn’t expect that it would grow over the successive years from three houses (1993) to a dozen or so (1994), to half the block (1995), to most of the street (1996), to all but three homes (1998). I didn’t expect how visitors would feel free to be loud and rambunctious, all competing to be heard, including clanging old firetrucks and very booming stereos, as well as the voices of mobile and ambulatory carolers.
I didn’t expect some low points: when a visitor commented about my neighbor’s home, unlit, saying “What’s with the Grinch?” I didn’t expect to have to explain to that visitor what nice people they were, and how their religion was one that did not endorse glorification of Christmas except as humbly and personally in the honor of Christ. I didn’t expect, in a different year, to find a visitor urinating in that same neighbor’s side yard. I also didn’t expect the paucity of religious celebration and the hegemony that red/white striping has attained.
I didn’t expect to have people go as far as to move to our particular block from other states, particularly because of the Christmas icicle lights and the neighborhood spirit. I didn’t expect that when we entertained high schoolers at home parties in the 1990s that they might buy a home on the block one day. I also didn’t expect that the roving three-house party we indulged in those first two years would evolve into a full block party each year. That three-house origin was the source of the “Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert” assignments in the block party to this day.
I didn’t expect that the invention we put together, simple twisting and stringing of a commercially available product, would become a ubiquitous Christmas decoration nationwide/worldwide. Many over the years have asked me why I (we) did not patent the invention. In the context of the day, Chinese production was such that any and every simple idea was copied and aggressively mass produced. Trying to enforce a patent would merely be an attorney’s gambit. I didn’t expect that that it would be enforceable, and that was pragmatically true.
I didn’t expect to learn how low my neighbors could be. The good will that we initially started out with in bringing light to cold dark days would be usurped by competitive urges, so much so that very negative things were being said about other streets when The Signal promoted its lights and decoration contests around the turn of the century.
I didn’t expect that it would become a “paid for” enterprise. Money is collected voluntarily, but it loses something when neighbors can just pay their way to the experience. I do not contribute to the “fund” because the organized effort is too contrived, too far from the original spirit of individual innovation and active participation. The metal candy canes and mailbox/Night Before Christmas placards and cold metal rebar stockings are mandated: requesting opt-out of them is disallowed/ignored. It drove the three detractors (Grinches) out, alienating them as neighbors, confounding the inital purpose.
I also didn’t expect that I’d write this summary, the good and the bad of it all, 30 years after the innocent and fun-seeking invention of those icicle lights. I didn’t expect it to offer one explanation about why some people get depressed at Christmas time.
I didn’t expect that the real salvation in all of it is that seeing and knowing that millions of people over those 30 years — criminals, jurists, dog trainers, carpenters, homebodies, retirees, children, German representatives from a notified body (look it up), everyone from all over — would come and enjoy it, and in their joy would be the real surprise for me, the gift freely given.
Sometimes what you don’t expect is exactly what you wanted all along. “Expect the unexpected, Grasshopper.”
Best wishes and Merry Christmas.