The air-blown inflatable scarecrow was the last straw. Abel Haymaker, the postal carrier, had suspected it would be when he’d delivered it that morning, priority post, to Shirleen Boback. Sure enough, by mid-afternoon, as he delivered the regular mail, a familiar-looking notice hung on the door. “ATTENTION,” it blared in red letters, as if anyone could ignore a piece of paper taped to her front door, “your residence has been determined to be in violation of the Homeowners’ Association rules. Your attention is required at a meeting to discuss the violation.” In the space labeled “Description of the Violation,” it said, “Inappropriate Lawn Decorations.”
Abel was about to place the mail through the slot when the door opened and Shirleen lunged at him. “Can you believe this?” she asked, jabbing her finger at the notice. “Just for showing a little holiday spirit?”
If there was one thing Abel hated, it was getting involved. He shrugged and hoped that would be the end of it.
“I know who’s behind this,” Shirleen said. “It’s that nosy Emerita Kingfisher.” With that, she waved disdainfully across the street at a house the mirror image of her own. The mirror image, that is, save for the colorful, oversized collection of fall-themed lawn ornaments cluttering Shirleen’s well-groomed front yard.
It had begun innocently enough, with a harvest wreath purchased from Crayne Crafts and Gifts. Abel knew this because, like most of the decorations, he had delivered it. If Shirleen had one vice, it was online shopping.
After the wreath, he’d delivered another box from Crayne Crafts and Gifts, this one containing an all-weather cornucopia, which Shirleen had affixed to the arm of her curbside lamp post. Then, a small flat package from Brumwell Lighting Company, which turned out to be a string of lit pumpkins, soon to find a home in Shirleen’s front window.
“As soon as I saw those lights, I knew there’d be trouble,” Emerita Kingfisher told him 15 minutes later, when he’d finally managed to pry himself away from Shirleen’s clutches and continue his rounds. “‘Who does she think she is?’ I’d said. ‘Defacing her front window with lit vegetables. She’s making us all look bad.’ Of course, there was nothing we could do about it, because technically, they were inside.”
Abel nodded as he backed away, waving a handful of undelivered mail at Emerita and mumbling, “Got to be on my way. Have a good…”
“Then she put up that abomination,” Emerita continued, undeterred. She pointed at the metal-frame turkey that had found a home underneath the red maple. “Who ever heard of a four-foot turkey?” she asked. “It’s the product of a diseased mind.”
It had also weighed nearly 20 pounds and caused Abel’s trick knee to act up for days afterward. He had to agree with Emerita: he had no love for that turkey.
Emerita continued: “If only she’d stopped then, I could have let it go, but then she installed those ridiculous haystacks.” Again, she pointed at Shirleen’s lawn, where five-foot-tall plastic haystacks resided on either side of the front steps, plugged into the outdoor jack and glowing gold at night. “That’s when I had to say something to her,” Emerita concluded. “I had to stop her before she drives everyone’s property values down.”
Abel knew the rest of the story, because he had lived it. As if spurred on by her neighbor’s disapprobation, Shirleen had gone into a shopping frenzy. Day after day, new packages arrived, with their contents displayed on Shirleen’s lawn the following morning. Giant leaf-bag pumpkins, turkey-toting gnomes, and the coup de grace (or perhaps coup de gauche): an animatronic pilgrim, complete with a confetti-blowing blunderbuss.
If Shirleen had been trying to draw her neighbor’s ire, she could not have been more effective. Over the weeks, Emerita had gone from a relatively taciturn resident (the type he preferred) to a slathering, fire-eyed harpy. While he couldn’t know the contents, Abel also knew that Emerita had exchanged several letters recently with the Homeowners’ Association.
“It will all come out tonight,” Emerita concluded, as Abel finally wrenched himself away from the conversation. “At the Homeowners’ Association meeting tonight, she’ll get what’s coming to her.”
The following morning, as he delivered a large box from Erwin’s Novelty Statuary Store, Shirleen met him at the door in tears. “I hate to do this to you, but I’m going to have to send that back,” she said. “No one will ever get to see the life-sized Squanto I bought. And he would have looked so good next to the pilgrim.” At this, she swept her eyes over her lawn. “Nobody will get to see the pilgrim any more either, for that matter.”
She told Abel, in words punctuated by gulping sobs, about how cruel her neighbors had been the previous night. They’d wielded their biggest hammer: the threat of an expensive lawsuit, based on a clause in the contract she’d signed when moving into the neighborhood and becoming a mandatory member of the Homeowners’ Association. “It’s the decorations or me,” she said. “So I guess they’ll have to go. But it’s so hard to say good-bye to them. They seem like family to me.” She leaned in close and confided, “When I see these items online, it’s like adopting a lost kitten. How can I say no?”
By the afternoon, all of the decorations had been removed, save for the pumpkin lights which still blinked orange from her window. As the days grew colder, Emerita regained her smug composure, while Shirleen seemed unusually subdued.
Then, one day, the spring returned to Shirleen’s step. Shortly afterwards, Abel delivered a package from Crayne Crafts and Gifts: a simple Christmas wreath for the front door.