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VOL. 127 | NO. 252 | Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vic Fleming

Stranded During Christmas Decorating

By Vic Fleming

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My understanding of Christmas tree lights, in a word, is nada, zilch, nil. OK, so that’s three words. I plug in a strand. If the bulbs light up, we’re good. If they don’t, I’m lost.

My main task during the Yule season is stringing white lights in the yard. From year to year, I test each of several strands. I keep several not-yet-opened packages to replace any strand that does not work.

Circa 10 years ago, we shelved the tradition of buying dead Douglas firs and bought a pre-lit artificial tree. We got a discount for buying a “floor model.” We’d gladly have paid a premium for it, because it was already assembled.

This tree had strings of lights that were factory-installed. When the holiday season was over, it got disassembled by my son, who had the good sense to color-code, with post-it notes, a series of wires that had been very carefully plugged into one another.

Thus, the next year I’d be able handle the assembly. As it turned out, my son got home from college in time to assemble the tree. Ditto the next year and the next. Circa five years ago, the tree-assembly task fell to me.

Putting the three main parts of the tree together was a no-brainer, even for me. But the light wires also had to be plugged in. In performing this task, I came to realize that my son’s Post-its were not as clear as I’d assumed they would be.

After an hour of trial and error, I had the tree assembled and lit up, and was bleeding in only three spots. I started plotting how to get my son home early the next year. But that didn’t happen.

In Year Two of my era of assembly, the pre-lit tree would not light up. No matter how logically I connected the various wires … nothing! So off to the store I went, returning with several strands of lights. I didn’t feel good about myself. But the tree lit up.

In succeeding years, I repeated this tactic without incident. Until this year. About a week after the tree was launched - fully loaded with all the delicate little ornaments that we’ve accumulated in 39 years of marriage - the lights failed.

Susan allowed as how she and I ought to be able to solve this problem with a little brainstorming. Ouch!

One logical solution was to disconnect the strand closest to the socket from the second strand, test it, and if it wasn’t working, remove it and replace it with another. Endeavoring to employ this option, I came to appreciate for the first time how difficult it is, on a fully loaded Christmas tree, to locate where one strand of lights is plugged into another.

After the fifth or sixth ornament fell to the floor, we bit the bullet and stripped the tree of each and every ornament. A few minutes later, entangled in the first, second, and third strands of lights, I determined which strand would not light up. I took it into “the other room” for its punishment. And we redecorated the tree from strand one.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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