Tommy and Betty Chandler have been together since high school, almost forty years ago. They’ve endured recessions, job losses, three children, six grandchildren, and one bout with cancer. They’ve also endured each other. There are those around here who say that’s the miracle. You would also be hard pressed to find two people so diametrically opposed in both taste and personality.
Their two-story farmhouse sits at the entrance to my neighborhood and is a wonder of style and sophistication, thanks in large part to Betty’s knack for having things Just So. That may well be Betty’s motto in life—Just So. Everything in its proper place in an anal-retentive sort of way. Tommy doesn’t seem to mind, though he did confess this to me one lazy afternoon:
“Betty’s a freak.”
Said in a loving way, of course. Tommy adores Betty and Betty adores him right back. They’ve reached a sort of balance over the years, a compromise designed with toleration in mind. Betty can do whatever she wants with the house, but the garage is Tommy’s alone. Manland, he calls it. Where there are tools and dirt and grease and where Longaberger baskets and frilly placemats go to die. Betty never ventures into Manland. It’s sacred ground. And Tommy is the benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing ruler.
All of this goes to show that love really can overcome differences. Usually.
Betty’s taste for Christmas decorations is much like her personality—Just So. Tommy, however, tends to lean toward Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Not a good combination. But as the house was agreed to be Betty’s domain (the yard too, since she contends it’s an extension of the house), Tommy can’t do much with his decorating style (big and gaudy) but sulk.
Two days ago Tommy happened upon a huge plastic Santa at the hardware store. Complete with silly grin, blinking lights, and a continuously waving hand. And thanks to a motion sensor under his cap, he even turned his head and shouted “HO-HO-HO!” at passing cars.
It was without a doubt the most overpriced, over-hyped, overdone monstrosity Tommy had ever seen. And also the most beautiful Christmas decoration he could have ever dreamed of putting up at his house.
Tommy knew what Betty would say. Didn’t care, either. He brought it home strapped to the bed of his truck, slapped it smack in the middle of the yard, and dared his wife to say one word about it.
Betty took that dare.
She said Tommy had better get that no-good, white trash, trailer park hunk of ugly out of her front yard now. And said Tommy had about as much sense as the idiot who dreamed up such a travesty of a Christmas decoration, and that he’d better thank God Almighty that she was around to keep things respectable around their house.
The Santa is no longer in the front yard.
“Sometimes in a marriage, you gotta do a little sacrificing,” Tommy told me.
But the story doesn’t end there. Tommy still had one card to play. Driving past his house just a little bit ago, I noticed the garage doors on the Chandler’s house were open. Tommy was on a throne disguised as an old lawn chair, presiding over the kingdom of Manland. He wasn’t alone, either. Right beside him blinking and shining and Ho-Ho-Hoing to all was the ugly Santa, safely out of reach of Betty’s rigid standards. After all, Manland is sacred ground.
I blew the horn as I drove past. Tommy toasted me with his can of beer and patted Santa’s belly.
I smiled. Two refugees from Prim and Proper Land, seeking asylum in a place where it’s Come As You Are. I liked that. There’s a certain rightness in being accepted despite the fact you’re not quite up to snuff.
I think we often get the impression that God’s in Tommy and Betty Chandler’s house. That if we want to see Him we’d better wipe our feet and dress nice and have everything Just So. But I don’t think that’s true. I think God’s out in Manland with the dirt and the grease, sitting in an old lawn chair with Tommy and admiring his Santa.
To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.