Our gnome neighbors by daylight

Image: Jeff Balke

It wasn’t something we actually thought we’d do. But we’d fantasized about it on our walks through our Oak Forest–area neighborhood.

A half block from our own home, set into the base of an oak tree, is the cutest little gnome house. It looks handmade, with round, deep-blue windows and its own diminutive front door. A gnome couple stand in front, the man next to a “Fairy Garden” sign. They always seem to be caught in the middle of some chore, looking up for just a moment to greet passersby—us—before returning to their tasks.

Having slowed to stare at it many times, we’d often commented that the couple’s home needed a wreath—something to make it as festive as the larger house behind it—before going on with our busy lives. Then last year, on one cold, quiet December night with, admittedly, not a lot going on, we decided we were through with so much talk and so little action.

My husband, niece, and I piled into the car and made a visit to CVS, where we procured wire, ribbon, and glue. Back at home, we pulled out a plastic garland and removed some of the berries. Then, the artistic one among us—the niece, wearing a pink Santa hat—spent a couple of hours at the dining room table, working meticulously on her creation and admonishing us for rushing her. Finally, with a flourish, she presented the wreath. It was perfect, a mini masterpiece.

The teeny wreath

Image: Jeff Balke

However: Hanging a tiny wreath on the gnome house of a neighbor you’ve never met is a pretty weird thing to do, I suddenly realized. It was around 10 at night. I felt strangely nervous. Wearing pajama pants and sweatshirts, we decided to drive over, husband at the wheel, the better to make a quick getaway.

Seconds later, we arrived. My niece and I leapt out of the car before we lost our nerve. Illuminating the scene with my cell-phone flashlight, I whispered to her to hurry as she delicately hung the wreath from the door, inserting a bit of wire into the crack above it. “Done!” she said. We scurried to the car like criminals before lurching off, exhilarated and giggling, back around the block to our own house.

Daylight brought questions. Had the family noticed the addition? Did they…like it? We didn’t know, of course, but we were sure of one thing: There’s much joy to be had in spreading a random bit of holiday cheer, even if it’s only to a couple of gnomes.

After that we monitored the house even more closely, and to our satisfaction, the wreath stayed up for the rest of the holiday season. Then one January day, we realized it was gone, the only real sign that anyone had noticed it in the first place.

Today, as I write this, almost an entire year has passed, and with the holidays here, I find myself wondering: Will we see the wreath again this month, or is it in a landfill? Will we leave our neighbors and their gnomes alone, or will we strike anew? What if the neighbors are Houstonia readers, and now considering a restraining order?

Wait—maybe the gnomes need a gnome-sized copy of our totally radical crime issue! Hmmm….

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