The Last Word in Christmas Lightscover illustration

by Helen Chappell

Editor's note: Somewhere deep in the lost marshes of the Eastern Shore is Oysterback, a village where anything can happen. Our guide to goings-on in Oysterback, Helen Chappell, shares this letter to Santa as our Holiday Tale for 1998.

Dear Santa,

Thanks for your nice response to my last letter. I, Desiree Grinch, proprietor of the Blue Crab Tavern, would like to take this opportunity to let you know how much we all appreciated your visit last year, and to apologize again for the misunderstanding. Alonzo Deaver has sworn off drinking Pride of Baltimore Vodka when he's jacklighting deer, so Rudolph should have no unpleasantness this year. Again, we are all very sorry about that.

Also, I'm sorry you had so much trouble finding us way out on the marsh, but to tell you the truth, sometimes we have some trouble finding ourselves, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Anyway, I didn't think you would mind if I dropped you a line again this year and sort of brought you up to speed on what's been happening down here.

As always, there's always this little matter of Captain Hardee Swann's Christmas lights. There's this Captain Plunk Pickett over to Wingo, VA, with a whole big bunch of moving Christmas figures and holiday display cases and pre-recorded caroling music and elves, sleighs, snowmen and Santas and maybe five or six more lights than Mr. Hardee has, which makes Mr. Hardee crazy, since it is his ambition to be the King of Christmas Lights, and he and this Mr. Plunk have a life-long rivalry left over from their days as skipjack captains, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time, as Professor Shepherd says. It may be lost in the mists of time, but those two sure haven't lost track of it, and Christmas is the time when they bring it all out and paste it up all over their houses for the world to see, then plug it all in. God forbid one of them should have one less Tiny Twinkle Light than the other.

Last year, Mr. Hardee got some of those three-dimensional wire figures from the flea market over to Seaford. Added to the 69,999 lights he picked up at Earlene and Delmar P.'s yard sale, it looked real good and gave off a nice, post-nuclear glow you could see all the way to Tubman's Corners. But then he heard a rumor that Mr. Plunk had gone to the black market and purchased the legendary Computo Lite 5000 Bulb Serial Set that alternately flashes out Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in traveling blinkers.

Normally, you have to be a pro to possess these lights. You have to be a registered retail display operator or a licensed dealer to own these mega-watt, computerized babies. In some states, there's talk of registering Computo Lite 5000 Bulb Serial Sets, to keep them out of the hands of amateurs, but Mr. Hardee and Mr. Plunk agreed that if Computo Lites are outlawed, only outlaws will have them.

Still, I guess Mr. Hardee thought his chestnuts were fried when he got word about that.

But then, at South of the Border on her way back from Florida last April, Florence Redmond picked up a 1986 Elko 43-Piece Illuminated Nativity Set and Mr. Hardee knew there was a Supreme Being Who smiled on him.

The Elko '86 Model 43-Piece Illuminated Nativity Set is the jewel in the crown of any serious Christmas light enthusiast, including as it does the Grazing Donkey discontinued in later sets because of complaints that it fell over in high winds. Of course, you do have the '86 edition Melchior who looks like now-deceased then-Oakland Raider Lyle Alzado, but that's a small price to pay for the glory of knowing you own a collector's dream. Compared to an '86 Elko Nativity, Computo Lites are birthday candles.

Well, you know what happened. It happens every year. At first dark the day after Thanksgiving, Mr. Hardee overloaded the transformer the power company gave him, and blew his Life Size Good Shepherd of Graceland Reverently Illuminated Elvis Figure all the way out to the Bay, where it landed on a Japanese freighter and gave some innocent Nissan Stanzas a whole new look. The sailors in the Shipping Channel said they thought Calvert Cliffs had finally gone off, or so we heard later.

After he got his wiring straightened out and Oysterback was bathed in a warm midday radiance, Mr. Hardee, gloating with anticipated triumph, hopped in the truck and drove down to Wingo.

When he got to Mr. Plunk's house, he was astonished to find it was decorated with only a tasteful Christmas wreath. Not a lite in site, so to speak. Mrs. Plunk, a woman of the sinisterly tasteful Martha Stewart school, sadly informed Mr. Hardee that Mr. Plunk had passed over last August, his truly astonishing Christmas Lights Collection dispersed among his children and grandchildren.

But the late Plunk, she told Mr. Hardee, was determined to have the last word. If he would drive past the Wingo Memorial Garden of Rest, he would see that his old rival had left a posthumous message.

Privately thinking this was Christmas, not Halloween, Mr. Hardee expressed his deepest sympathies to the widow and took himself off past the boneyard. He had no trouble locating the late Plunk's tombstone.

Powered by an old marine battery, that Computo Lite 5000 Bulb Serial Set that alternately flashed out Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in traveling blinkers was tastefully draped around Mr. Plunk's tombstone.

Talk about having the last word.


Your Friend,

Proprietor, Blue Crab Tavern

P.S. World peace and a clean planet would still be a nice gift.


Helen Chappell, of Maryland's Eastern Shore, is the author of "about 37" books, including Oysterback Spoken Here and Oysterback Tales, from which this tale is taken. Hers too is the mystery series featuring the surprising detective couple Sam and Hollis in Ghost of a Chance, Dead Duck and Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death. The newest in the series, Giving Up the Ghost, comes out this spring. Helen's also published several serious novels and, under the pen name Rebecca Baldwin, lots of romances. Also out this spring is Chesapeake Bay Book of the Dead, "an oddment about tombstone and graveyards in Chesapeake Country."

Catch up with Chappell on the web at

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VolumeVI Number 50
December 17-23, 1998
New Bay Times

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