Whenever a large box arrives by mail, count on me to shout, “It’s a major award!” and then look around to see who gets the joke.
This undeniably annoying habit stems from decades of watching a rumpled dad rediscover his self-confidence over and over again by uncrating a lamp of historically bad taste. We all know it as The Leg Lamp. Or as Ralphie Parker’s dad put it, “You know, like a statue.”
The source here is, of course, A Christmas Story, a 1983 film that has grown into a holiday staple as unavoidable as workplace Secret Santa sign-ups. This American treasure (it’s in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress) is set in writer Jean Shepherd’s Hammond, Indiana, childhood home and was filmed mostly in Cleveland.
Perhaps you eagerly plan an annual viewing and yell, “I can’t put my arms down!” every time you wear a puffy coat. Maybe the movie is forced upon you by the annual TNT/TBS broadcast marathon seen by more than 31 million people last year.
Triple-dog dares: Guaranteed to end poorly. Photo courtesy of A Christmas Story House.
I’m absolutely in the former camp, thanks to Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. I, too, lobbied my parents for an air rifle, going so far as composing a poem that linked the gift to defeating communism. (This was during Reagan’s ’80s, after all.)
But I’m downright noncommittal compared to Brian Jones. When weak eyesight dashed his dream of flying jets after graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, his mother mailed him a major award to lift his spirits: a homemade leg lamp. Inspired, Brian started building leg lamps and selling them out of his San Diego apartment while working as an intelligence officer.
In 2006, his wife noticed the actual A Christmas Story house for sale on eBay, and Brian quickly spent all of his leg-lamp earnings on the run-down home in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. Then he flew to Ohio see his purchase.
“I thought, ‘What if I renovate it to how it looked in the movie and you could go in and touch everything? Kind of like Graceland is the way it looked when Elvis lived in it,’” Brian says. When he opened the house for the first Christmas season, people waited up to four hours to get in.
Today, he draws 100,000 visitors a year and owns nearby homes serving as a gift shop and museum (star items: the Red Ryder and Randy’s snowsuit). In June, he began offering overnight stays in the Parkers’ home. There’s an apartment upstairs, but after the house closes at 5 p.m., overnight guests have the run of the place. “We get people showing up in bunny suits so they can relive the movie,” Brian says. “That’s what it’s there for.”
Why does Brian love this movie so? Why do so many of us love it so? To Brian, it’s a near-perfect summary of childhood, or as Jean Shepherd put it, “kid-dom.” Battling bullies. Trying to impress your old man. Lobbying for that present that’s always just out of reach.
Oh, and Brian says, “it helps that TBS and TNT play it for 24 hours every Christmas.”
Editorial content director Trevor Meers writes a Mid-Thought column in each issue of Midwest Living.