My brother loves Christmas. If you’ve ever driven down Litchfield Turnpike after Thanksgiving and stopped to ogle the brilliantly decorated little house that’s kitty-corner to Durley’s Pond, you know what I’m talking about.
My brother, John Schurman, starts decorating in mid-November. His basement is filled with tables, lined up side by side, leaving just enough room to walk around the perimeter. The tables are covered with dozens of lit Christmas villages and thousands of other pieces . . . people strolling down streets lined with trees and old-fashioned streetlamps, children skating on ponds, horses trotting before carriages and at least three trains whistling their way through towns and into tunnels.
John’s front yard is just as amazing, with leaping reindeer, Santas, Disney characters, candy canes and, of course, trains. People come from all over to see his display, and if they’re lucky, my brother invites them inside to see the It’s magical.
This year, however, his yard is dark and the basement a sea of packed boxes. For a few nights, he kept one candle burning in his kitchen window in memoriam, but even that seemed too festive so he packed it up. The most extensive Christmas display in our little town is dark for the first time in ten years, and residents are confused.
What happened to kill the holiday for Bethany’s own Mr. Christmas? Well, the truth is, CL&P killed his holiday spirit, leaving him angry and bitter. Here’s the story. Remember that ? Yeah, I’ll bet you do. My brother remembers it, as well, because that Saturday night the tree in his front yard snapped and took down the power lines to his house. It was Thursday before the crews came to reconnect him, and here’s what happened in his own words:
“Thursday comes and a crew that worked for CL&P from Oklahoma rewired my house and said it would be energized soon. This was at 7:30 p.m., and at 8 p.m. I noticed the stove light was on, which meant we had power. I turned the generator off and switched to the outside line. My son, nine years old, is yelling to me that there are funny noises in the house. I went upstairs and saw the lights going bright and dim, with bulbs throughout the house popping. I'm was cleaning up glass when my wife came in from work and started to vacuum the mud room when the vacuum cleaner revved up and exploded, blowing out the front end and terrifying her. Thank God no one was hurt. We tried to call CL&P three times and they said they would put a ticket in. I said we needed help now; my house could be burning down. The third time we called, the rude lady told my wife that if it's that bad, call 911. I did.”
The Bethany Volunteer Fire Department showed up shortly, as well as the state police. They checked the house and found a few hot spots in the wall from burnt out outlets, then called CL&P to get a crew down to check out the house, and it took more than two hours for them to get here. The fire department and my family waited outside in the cold. When they did arrive, they found that the Oklahoma men wired my house backwards, sending 220 volts through all my 110 sockets, cooking a pretty long list of appliances. I was very upset, needless to say.”
Think that stinks? Wait, there’s more:
“The next day I talked to the liaison from CL&P as well as my first selectwoman [Derrylyn Gorski] about what happened. CL&P admitted they made a mistake and said they would make good. We kept in contact with CL&P, calling almost every day to try to find out what was being done. We were told again and again it would take six to eight weeks for the claim to go through. That didn't cut it with me seeing as it was their fault.”
“One day my wife was arguing with a CL&P service lady on the phone when I took it away from her before she got in trouble. I tried to get the lady to put me through to a supervisor, but she wouldn't. I'm pretty sure I stated, ‘What do I have to do, get into my car and go to corporate headquarters and run through the front doors to get to talk to a supervisor?’ She said, ‘Sir, are you threatening us?’ I said, ‘No, but what do I have to do to talk to someone?’ That night at 11:30 p.m., a state trooper came knocking on my door to arrest me for threatening. We talked for a while and even he said that the threat was so vague that it would be thrown out of court. He even called his supervisor to try to not have to write a ticket out. His boss said that I should still get a summons since it was on tape, even if it was vague.
So, I went to court. I never was arrested for anything in my life, clean record and all. It looks like they will most likely put me on probation. I'll find out Jan. 6 when I have to go back again, and miss my second day in three months at a new job.”
We did get a check from CL&P to replace the destroyed items, but it was for a devalued amount, so I couldn't replace even half the items. We only bought one TV and two desktop computers, cheap ones. We still have to replace the circuit box, and that will take care of the rest of the money. All I can say is that they got away really cheap with us and we got burned.”
Not only did CL&P make a terrible mistake and almost burn my brother’s house to the ground, they had him arrested. He lost money by missing work, he lost appliances that he can’t afford to replace, and he will now have a police record hanging over his head.
My brother and his wife are not people with any money to spare; John is a machinist and Laurie is a dietary aide in a nursing home. They live paycheck to paycheck, and fronting money to replace or repair what was destroyed was never an option. To get arrested because they were desperate to get their circuit box fixed was more than my brother could stand.
And so, the little house on Litchfield Turnpike is dark and quiet. When you drive by it this Christmas season, take a moment to bow your head for a moment in memory of Christmas Past and say a prayer for Christmas Yet to Come. My brother hasn’t decided if he’ll resurrect the display again next year, but maybe . . . he’s more forgiving than I am.
Meanwhile, the spirit of Christmas Present is currently DOA on Litchfield Turnpike. And while I really don’t want him to give an extra nickel to CL&P, I’m kinda missing the lights . . . a lot . . .