Would this be the year that Rudolph no longer stands by the lamppost in the yard? For several years I have questioned his condition for display but always concluded that he was part of tradition, no matter how he looked, and stood him there. This time, though, I seriously questioned: “I don’t know.”
Sawed from an oak log about 24 inches in circumference, his body was originally covered with healthy, rugged bark. The bark was one of the first things to go. Nature loosened it and stips fell off each time he made his annual appearance. His body has been bare for some time.
His head is a smaller block, attached with a neck set at an angle. It, too, has lost its bark, but the red nose is intact, created from a golf ball, first painted barn red. The paint eventually faded but his most important feature has been restored by our crimping shiny red foil tightly around it.
Built as you would draw a stick horse figure, Rudolph’s legs were made of fairly straight branches cut almost equal in length. One end was trimmed to fit snugly into holes drilled into his belly. They supported him well until old bones got brittle and his left hind leg broke.
I considered dragging him to the sinkhole following that mishap, but I found that I could lean the broken side against the lamppost and the fact that he had a missing leg went unnoticed. With this adaptation, the other three have borne him well for several years.
He was always losing his antlers from season to season, but since they were common branched twigs, I easily broke replacements from the sugar maple tree and stuck them in the holes in his head.
This year, as I dug him out from the corner of the storage shed, I saw a new problem—termites had invaded his very being. Tunnels had been eaten all along his torso, some open, others filled in with the termites’ manufactured crusty sawdust. What a mess. He wasn’t himself.
But I remembered how he had looked: The first time I saw him some 40 years ago when James came lugging him from the shop, built in secret from a sketch in a “Handyman” magazine, a whimsical surprise. I remembered the pictures I’d made with snow on his back; I remembered the grandsons’ unspoken interpretation as we told them, “That’s Rudolph!”; I remembered blizzard winds that blew him over, rains that wrinkled the red ribbon around his neck and those milestones of his aging process.
I put my arms underneath and picked him up. He felt light, having gradually lost weight through the years as he “seasoned.” No one was looking, so my memories and I gave him a hug.
My mind was made up. I headed straight for the lamppost. I placed him in his familiar spot against the lamppost, now a little rusty itself. I broke off a twig to replace one antler that got misplaced over the summer, brushed the crumbling wood body with my palm, stepped back, sighed and smiled.
So, there he stands, with a wreath of greenery around his neck and his red nose shining. One of the best and best loved Christmas decorations on the place.