Saturday Diary

Saturday Diary / Our Christmas village is a little rundown this year

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It has been a tough year for the Christmas village on my mantel.

In the past, the tiny town has dealt with housing foreclosures, a seedy Santa at the brothel and declining middle-class jobs that were lost when the casino took over the candle factory.

Sure, the town leaders tried to bolster the region, adding a light-rail system with a station that looks like the new station at Gateway Center, but ours is an actual butter dish instead of a giant facsimile.

Still, much of the town has lost its luster.

I think that is because of the layer of construction dust that has settled on the buildings and trees. It’s rundown enough that the residents are looking to Lawrenceville as a guide to making a neighborhood trendy.

Right now, Santa is face down in the snow like one of those bar-hopping Brooklyn Santas at SantaCon.

A confession: My Christmas village has been up all year this year.

But I can explain (or justify, or rationalize).

Last November/​December, the Christmas village went up as usual. The construction was so un-noteworthy that I did not find it worthy of writing my annual Saturday Diary about it.

Generally, I like to get the village all packed up by Valentine’s Day, or Easter at the latest. This year, the village’s fate was set at Groundhog Day.

That was the day the Budget Rent-A-Truck (the second one, the first one broke down in Boonville, Missouri) pulled up in front of my house with all the worldy possessions of my partner, Jan, and her 13-year-old son, who wishes to remain unidentified.

It was just before Groundhog Day that construction started in the attic to build Jan’s son a bedroom.

There was no place to put so many of the boxes that the living room became the de facto storage area. The 4 feet in front of the hearth looked like the start of the hoarding life with the 13-year-old on the couch. Finally, around the Fourth of July, we bought Jan’s son a bed for his new room and he happily moved upstairs. Most of the boxes also found new places to reside. Some were unpacked into the new bedroom, a few sit elsewhere still waiting to be unpacked.

But when the boxes were in the living room, the Christmas village was a remote and unreachable place.

In April I tried braving the climb over the boxes, standing on the Queen Anne chair in an attempt to at least start to dismantle some of the stuff on the mantel. I removed the street lights, tore up some track and packed up the grocery store. I put those all away in a place that was not where they always used to be, since where they always used to be was part of the renovation. There is no place there for them anymore.

Instead, I put them elsewhere. Where? I am not sure.

I might have to demand a community-benefits agreement to put a new grocery store back where the old one used to be. Or I need to get one of my kids to help me look through the basement.

Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village.

I gave up the effort to put away the village shortly after I began. By July we were halfway to Christmas anyway, so why take the rest of it down?

For now, the Christmas village, with a partial railroad, no street lights, a footbridge that is lying on its side where the railroad tracks used to be, and a thick layer of dust looks like winter all right.

Nuclear winter.

I hope to get to the repairs this weekend. Otherwise, the Christmas around my chimney will look a lot like the Christmas that could have happened if neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev had backed down in 1962.

Ann Belser is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette (, 412-263-1699).

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