Home > Skipping Christmas(7)

Skipping Christmas(7)
Author: John Grisham

A hospital stay on Hemlock, and the Frohmeyers arranged visitation and food and even lawn care. A death on Hemlock, and they organized flowers for the funeral and visits to the cemetery. A neighbor in need could call the Frohmeyers for anything.

The Frostys had been Vic's idea, though he'd seen it in a suburb of Evanston and thus couldn't take full credit. The same Frosty on every Hemlock roof, an eight-foot

Frosty with a goofy smile around a corncob pipe and a black top hat and thick rolls around the middle, all made to glow a brilliant white by a two-hundred-watt bulb screwed into a cavity somewhere near Frosty's colon. The Hemlock Frostys had made their debut six years earlier and were a smashing success-twenty-one houses on one side, twenty-one on the other, the street lined with two perfect rows of Frostys, forty feet up. A color photo with a cute story ran on the front page. Two television news crews had done Live! reports.

The next year, Stanton Street to the south and Ackerman Street to the north had jumped in with Rudolphs and silver bells, respectively, and a committee from Parks and Rec, at Frohmeyer's quiet urging, began giving neighborhood awards for Christmas decorations.

Two years earlier disaster struck when a windstorm sent most of the Frostys airborne into the next precinct. Frohmeyer rallied the neighbors though, and last year a new, slightly shorter version of Frosty decorated Hemlock. Only two houses had not participated.

Each year, Frohmeyer decided the date on which to resurrect the Frostys, and after hearing the rumors about Krank and his cruise he decided to do it immediately. After dinner, he typed a short memo to his neighbors, something he did at least twice a month, ran forty-one copies, and dispatched his six children to hand-deliver them to every house on Hemlock. It read: "Neighbor-Weather tomorrow should be clear, an excellent time to bring Frosty back to life-Call Marty or Judd or myself if you need assistance-Vic Frohmeyer."

Luther took the memo from a smiling kid.

"Who is it?" Nora called from the kitchen.


"What's it about"


She walked slowly into the living room, where Luther was holding the half-sheet of paper as if it were a summons to jury duty. They gave each other a fearful look, and very slowly Luther began shaking his head

"You have to do it," she said.

"No, I do not," he said, very firmly, his temper rising with each word. "I certainly do not. I will not be told by Vic Frohmeyer that I have to decorate my house for Christmas, "

"It's just Frosty."

"No, it is much more"


"It's the principle of it, Nora. Don't you understand? We can forget about Christmas if we damned well choose, and-"

"Don't swear, Luther."

'"And no one, not even Vic Frohmeyer, can stop us." Louder. "I will not be forced into doing this!" He was pointing to the ceiling with one hand and waving the memo with the other. Nora retreated to the kitchen.

Chapter Five

Hemlock Frosty came in four sections-a wide round base, a slightly smaller snowball that wedged into the base, then a trunk, then the head with the face and hat. Each section could be stuffed into the next larger one, so that storage for the other eleven months of the year was not too demanding. At a cost of $82.99, plus shipping, everyone packed away their Frostys with care.

And they unpacked them with great delight. Throughout the afternoon sections of Frostys could be seen inside most garages along Hemlock as the snowmen were dusted off and checked for parts. Then they were put together, built just like a real snowman, section on top of section, until they were seven feet tall and ready for the roof. Installation was not a simple matter. A ladder and a rope were required, along with the help of a neighbor. First, the roof had to be scaled with a rope around the waist, then Frosty, who was made of hard plastic and weighed about forty pounds, was hoisted up, very carefully so as not to scratch him over the asphalt shingles. When Frosty reached the summit, he was strapped to the chimney with a canvas band that Vic Frohmeyer had invented himself. A two-hundred-watt lamp was screwed into Frosty's innards, and an extension cord was dropped from the backside of the roof.

Wes Trogdon was an insurance broker who'd called in sick so he could surprise his kids by having their Frosty up first. He and his wife, Trish, washed their snowman just after lunch, then, under her close supervision, Wes climbed and grappled and adjusted until the task was complete. Forty feet high, with a splendid view, he looked up and down Hemlock and was quite smug that he had got the jump on everyone, including Frohmeyer.

While Trish made hot cocoa, Wes began hauling boxes of lights up from the basement to the driveway, where he laid them out and checked circuits. No one on Hemlock strung more Christmas lights than the Trogdons. They lined their yard, wrapped their shrubs, draped their trees, outlined their house, adorned their windows-fourteen thousand lights the year before.

Frohmeyer left work early so he could supervise matters on Hemlock, and he was quite pleased to see activity. He was momentarily jealous that Trogdon had beaten him to the punch, but what did it really matter? Before long they joined forces in the driveway of Mrs. Ellen Mulholland, a lovely widow who was already baking brownies. Her Frosty was up in a flash, her brownies devoured, and they were off to render more assistance. Kids joined them, including Spike Frohmeyer, a twelve-year-old with his father's flair for organization and community activism, and they went door to door in the late afternoon, hurrying before darkness slowed them.

At the Kranks', Spike rang the doorbell but got no response. Mr. Krank's Lexus was not there, which was certainly not unusual at 5 P.M. But Mrs. Krank's Audi was in the garage, a sure sign that she was home. The curtains and shades were pulled. No answer at the door though, and the gang moved to the Seekers', where Ned was in the front yard washing his Frosty with his mother-in-law barking instructions from the steps.

"They're leaving now," Nora whispered into the phone in their bedroom.

"Why are you whispering?" Luther asked with agitation.

"Because I don't want them to hear me."

"Who is it?"

"Vic Frohmeyer, Wes Trogdon, looks like that Brixley fellow from the other end of the street, some kids."

"A regular bunch of thugs, huh?"

"More like a street gang. They're at the Beckers' now."

"God help them."

"Where's Frosty?" she asked.

"Same place he's been since January. Why?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"This is comical, Nora. You're whispering into the phone, in a locked house, because our neighbors are going door to door helping our other neighbors put up a ridiculous seven-foot plastic snowman, which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. Ever think about that, Nora?"


"We voted for Rudolph, remember?"

"It's comical."

"I'm not laughing."

"Frosty's taking a year off, okay? The answer is no."

Luther hung, up gently and tried to concentrate on his work. After dark, he drove home, slowly, all the way telling himself that it was silly to be worried about such trivial matters as putting a snowman on the roof. And all the way he kept thinking of Walt Scheel.

"Come on, Scheel," he mumbled to himself. "Don't let me down."

Walt Scheel was his rival on Hemlock, a grumpy sort who lived directly across the street. Two kids out of college, a wife battling breast cancer, a mysterious job with a Belgian conglom, an income that appeared to be in the upper range on Hemlock-but regardless of what he earned Scheel and the missus expected their neighbors to think they had a lot more. Luther bought a Lexus, Scheel had to have one. Bellington put in a pool, Scheel suddenly needed to swim in his own backyard, doctor's orders. Sue Kropp on the west end outfitted her kitchen with designer appliances-$8,000 was the rumor-and Bev Scheel spent $9,000 six months later.


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