The next few houses are all right, but the comments don't rise above the level of "Oh, that's nice." Or, "Well, that's very traditional." Fives and sixes are given all around as Wagner tells a story about how his neighbor copies every decorating idea Wagner tries. "I put up a wreath and he puts up a wreath. I put up green lights and he goes out and gets some. The other day I was out putting something up and he said, 'Oh, no. No more.'"
Judy Miller thinks the next house, the one with lights strung all over the trees, is beautiful. Hewitt thinks it's a little showy.
"All those white lights again," Wagner mutters. "I like colored lights much more." And then he says something that catches everyone's attention. "Well, you can say this much. This display is original but that other one [at the mannequin house] is professionally done."
"Wait," Hewitt interrupts. "You mean that guy has people come in and help him with all of that?"
"Yes," Wagner says, leaning forward. "That's what I've heard, although I've never actually seen it. That's what I've heard."
"Well, we'll have to take that into consideration," says Hewitt, already scratching out the nine plus on his score sheet and making a little note that reads "prof. done."
"I like white lights," Judy Miller says, passing an icicle-bedecked rambler on the way to the next to the last house. "Oh, here it is," she says, leaning forward to get a better look. "Back up, back up! I can't see the whole thing." Her husband obliges, and the car rolls back, revealing the full splendor of the yard. An angel stands on the roof as a lighted Santa and reindeer fly at an angle toward the sky. "Look at that," Judy Miller says, pointing at the house. "The deer's legs are moving back and forth."
"I didn't see that before," Mike Miller says with a little laugh. "I wonder if they just turned those on as we pulled up."
The judges sit, taking in the whole scene: The wooden wise men and their camels; the word JOY projected onto the garage door; the bulbs in all the bushes--colored lights at last!--and a big spear-thing that sort of looks like a crab with lights all over it in the front yard. Judy Miller points at the unusual decoration and asks what it is. No one knows, but Mike Miller thinks it might be "long sticks made to look like a fan." The foursome agrees that it's beautiful in its own strange way.
The last house was another dud. Everyone joked a bit about it, until Mike Miller jumped in. "Well, it's probably their first year decorating."
Back at the St. Anthony Fire Station, each of the judges considers his or her votes one last time. At last, Mike Miller passes the scores around for everyone to see. "Well, there are no ties," he remarks. "That's good." Autumn Woods, the apartment complex, and the JOY house with the stick fan were the winners.
"And to think," Miller says after checking with Wagner on the whereabouts of the chamber of commerce's checkbook, "that house just entered today at the last minute."