It was the week before Christmas, a quiet Sunday night. Will and Maya made sure their three sons were safely strapped into the back seat of their small car. Tony, the oldest, was six. He’d been the only child for so long, he was used to having the entire back seat of the 1979 Toyota Corolla to himself. Now he had to share space with Ryan who was three and Marlon who was two. The young couple had had two car seats in the back seat until Ryan turned three. Poor Tony was so glad there was only one car seat now that didn’t take up more space than he was willing to share.
He was happy, as long as he could sit by the window behind the driver’s seat. So was Ryan, who sat on his booster seat by the window behind his mother on the passenger’s side. The two of them were especially excited tonight, because Will and Maya were taking them to Christmas City, a driving tour of a make-believe town with unbelievable Christmas lighting displays. The entire tour was about five miles long. It would take about an hour to drive straight through Christmas City. If a car stopped in the “downtown” to buy funnel cake or hot cocoa, it would take longer to make the pilgrimage. Christmas City was located in Ariton, Alabama. It was enjoyed by thousands every year between the end of November and the last day of December.
Will and Maya knew they were in for a treat. Ryan and Jarrell had never seen the magical Christmas City. Tony was only one when they’d visited before, so it would be a first time for him too. Tony and Ryan were happy with their window views where they’d be seeing Christmas City. Jarrell, on the other hand was not happy.
He whined and kicked as his mother strapped him into the big gray car seat that was belted into the center seat belt. Jarrell hated the car seat. He wanted to ride like a big boy like his brothers. He was only a year younger than Ryan. He wasn’t a baby anymore. As he reluctantly settled into his little captivity, he looked to his right. The car was moving. Ryan was blowing breaths onto the cold window and drawing scribbles in the fog he made with his gloved hand. Jarrell sat up and put his hand out as if to touch the window. The car seat fastener would only let him reach Ryan’s shoulders.
Jarrell looked to his left. Tony sat straight and attentive as if something outside the car captivated his attention. When Jarrell looked, all he saw was a reflection of his oldest brother. Again, Jarrell leaned toward Tony, hoping to see himself in the glass. The car seat fastener would not release him to get close enough to see anything in the semi-dark night that was quickly approaching complete darkness.
Jarrell reached for the fastener where his mother pressed and made the “click” every time she secured him in the car seat. He tried to move the fastener, push it, pull it, tear it, anything that could get him out of it. He knew that if he did loosen it, once his mother found out, she would just strap him back in, and that would be the end of that.
The boy pouted and looked at his parents sitting in the seats in front of him. His dad driving and his mother sitting bedside him was a picture that would forever be in his mind. The front seats were bucket seats, which meant there was clear visibility for whoever sat in the middle. All Jarrell could see from the middle was darkness and an occasional set of tail lights as cars passed them on the road. He sighed and sat back, too tired to fight anymore.
The road to Christmas City seemed like a long one, especially for Jarrell. Once Will and Maya and their three sons got into Ariton, there was a string of cars both ahead of them and behind. They inched along with the rest, for about 30 minutes. For Jarrell, sitting in that old gray car seat in the middle of the back seat, it seemed like forever. It was too long to be staring at the same set of tail lights brighten and dim repeatedly for stopping and starting.
Finally, the entourage was greeted with the tall wide gate with white lights that read. WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS CITY. Then, to the right and to the left of them, there appeared snow men all lined in a row. they were plump and white and smiling, with scarlet red noses that matched the scarlet red hats on their heads. Next came the long, lifelike displays of Santa and his reindeer all decked out in brightly colored lights that flickered on and off.
“Ooooooh, pretty lights!” Jarrell exclaimed. His face lit up, especially after he realized that he didn’t need to or want to be sitting by either window in the back seat right now. As he gazed forward, he could see the beautiful towering Christmas scenes move toward them with each turn of the car’s wheels. Jarrells’ view of Christmas City’s breath-taking Christmas show was big and perfect. He got to see the displays, even before Tony and Ryan did, because his car seat was so tall, and he had an unimpeded view.
Suddenly, sitting in the center in a car seat didn’t seem like such a bad thing to Jarrell. Tonight at Christmas City, he had the best seat in the car to see the Christmas show at Christmas City.
“Pretty lights,” was just about all he could say the whole night, even when his family arrived home hours later.. He meant every word of it.
Author’s note: This story is based on a real life event in my family that took place 19 years ago.