Ah, in my heck of the woods, it just would not be the holidays without this sign.
And therein lies the tale!
In the mid 1960’s my family moved into a new home in Mountain View, California. On San Rafael Avenue, just off the US-101 Freeway. A nice four bedroom, two bath tract house with a two-car garage, a living room, family room with a master bedroom suite. And it included a space that could be developed as an extra room or covered patio.
My mother is fond of recalling the five years we lived there as being in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Plenty of families with young children. Many servicemen making use of their GI benefits to afford the homes in this tract. And plenty of employment opportunities as Silicon Valley was in it’s early days, with NASA’s Ames Research Center and the Moffet Naval Air Station just across the freeway.
I don’t recall the exact year, but the Christmas season came and some of the neighbors organized a home decorating contest. Just like the one shown in A Charlie Brown Christmas. And the goal was to have every home decorated. To make the neighborhood a holiday destination; a must-see.
Now my dad didn’t exactly have a lot of free time to spend on a project like this. During the week, he was working for ACME Steel producing steel strapping and other packing materials. His commute was a tough one, making the trip from Mountain View to South San Francisco five days a week. With four children at the time, weekends tended to be hectic with occasional visits to grandparents in San Francisco’s Seacliff. There was not a lot of extra time to spend on an effort, not to mention paying for the electricity it would entail.
I don’t know what pushed him in this direction, but he got out a piece of plywood, and painted it plain white. In an olde English script, laid out by hand, the word “Humbug” came to life. When finished, this sign adorned that two-car garage, in defiance to the rest of the neighborhood.
It was an instant hit with some of the neighbors. The organizers of the contest, they were less than amused. One neighbor I never recall seeing or hearing from any time. This may have contributed to that.
In 1970, we moved to a new home in Walnut Creek, where my parents still live today. And just as it did all those years ago, the “Humbug” sign still takes it’s place of honor every Christmas season, above the two-car garage. It’s become a tradition. So much so that when a few years ago, he was late in putting it up, folks in the neighborhood were concerned he was okay. He’s even known by some as the “Humbug” Man.
One of my brothers has taken over the duty of putting the sign in place now, My dad is over 80 and while doing okay, he has been through enough misadventures that involve ladders. So this is a good thing that someone else takes over the responsibility.
It’s been almost 50 Christmases since the sign came to be. The lettering has changed a bit over the years and the lights are still single good sized bulbs. No LED’s or icicle lights added. Traditions, after all.
So, there you have it. The tale of the “Humbug” sign.
Let me leave you with the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge, from the pen of Charles Dickens, that inspired it:
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”