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‘A Christmas Story’

December 24, 2018

CANTON, Miss.—As high school sweethearts in 1980, Clark and Rai Smith vowed to one day own the home at the corner of E. Center and Lyon streets in Canton.

“We loved the porch,” Rai recalls, “and the grass was immaculate. I could picture red ribbons all across the front of it at Christmas.”

What she didn’t picture, glowing in the front window of the house built in 1909, was a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg, complete with fishnet hose and a black high heel shoe. It is topped off with a shade featuring black tassels.

“Not in my . . . I mean, I never . . . ” Rai still gets a bit tongue-tied when the lamp is mentioned, even though it has become the centerpiece of their Christmas decor.

Of course, the lamp is known for its “soft glow of electric sex” in the 1983 movie, “A Christmas Story.” Set in Indiana in the late 1940s, the film is built around a family of four—a couple and their two sons—and the eldest son’s mission to receive a “Red Ryder carbon action 20-shot Range Model air rifle” from Santa Claus.

But one of the running storylines is the father winning a contest that earned him “a major award”—the leg lamp.

He loved it so much that his eyes bulged as he looked at it. His wife despised it so much she “accidentally” broke it while watering a nearby plant.

Though the movie was a box office flop. It became a must-see event once it hit TV in the early 1990s. In 1997, TNT and TBS began showing it 24 consecutive hours, starting Christmas Eve night. And know this: You have to see a leg lamp in person to truly understand what the movie dad loved about it, and now what real dads love about it.

“She’s jealous of that leg,” Clark says about Rai, who rolls her eyes at the claim.

When asked what year he bought it, Clark looks offended.

“I didn’t buy it. I won it in 2012,” he says, sticking to the movie script.

Rai rolls her eyes again.

“He hadn’t told me he was getting the lamp,” Rai recalls. “I was Christmas shopping with my friend Margaret Dowdle when Clark called me. I told him we were headed home in a few minutes.

“When we got there, we could see it in the front window. I couldn’t believe it. Margaret said, ‘That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.’ And my mother despised it. She always called it ‘the tackiest thing on earth.’

“But Clark and the boys (Stuart, 21, and twins Daniel and Patrick, 18, at the time) were rolling they were laughing so hard.”

The lamp is a must-see in Canton. “People have driven past the house, slammed on brakes, backed up and then just sat there, admiring it,” Clark says.

“Canton Academy has a holiday run every year, and the runners come down our street,” Rai says. “We’ll sit out on the front porch and watch them. They’ll stop and point and laugh and yell. It makes people smile.”

A shave, a beer and a lamp

Lanis Noble, owner of Noble Barber at The Township in Ridgeland, has a leg lamp on the bar near the register.

“I put this up instead of a Christmas tree,” Noble says. “I like for the shop to be more than just another place, and I thought this would add something different.

“Plus, who doesn’t love a leg lamp?”

It fits in with Noble Barber’s uniqueness. Among its many signs and sayings: “Hot Shave, Cold Beer” and “Clutch and Brake Work.” The former is offered, the latter is not.

“I cut hair in Jackson for 20 years — men and women,” he says. “I wanted to open a place, nice but not too nice, where guys could hang out, get a haircut, get their beard trimmed. What’s better than listening to Led Zeppelin while you get a haircut?

“And the leg lamp just adds to the whole atmosphere.”

The first reaction from customers?

“They’ll go ‘fruh-GEE-lee,’ ” Noble says, laughing, referring to the dad’s mispronunciation of the word “fragile” on the crate it came in.

Noble has encountered only one visitor who didn’t know the history of the leg lamp.

“I wanted to ask him what planet he was from,” Noble says.

A leg lamp story

We can thank Jean Shepherd and Reuben Freed for this wonderful art piece.

Shepherd, who wrote and narrated the film, mentioned a leg lamp in his 1966 novel “In God We Trust, Others Pay Cash.”

Freed, production designer of “A Christmas Story,” is credited with making the lamp come to life.

Three were made for filming. None survived.

But nowadays, they are making them by the gross. Sizes range from night-light miniatures up to 50-inch towers of glorious cheer that cost as much as $299.

You can purchase leg lamp cookie cutters, sweaters, string lights, stockings and throw rugs.

The leg lamp in Clark and Rai’s living room — which is eerily similar to the living room in the movie — has become even more special the past three years.

“After all fun and festivities on Christmas Day, we would all sit together and watch ‘A Christmas Story’ as a family,” Clark says. “All of us loved it, but especially Stuart.”

“Stuart got all of Clark’s jokes. He laughed about the same things Clark did. And that lamp would’ve been his one day,” Rai says.

But in November 2015, Stuart committed suicide. He had battled drug addiction for several years.

“The drugs made him (impulsive),” Rai says.

The family hasn’t watched the movie since his death.

“But we will,” Clark says. “One of these days we’ll be able to.”

“I do know that Stuart would be happy the leg lamp is in that window every year,” Rai says. “And that’s where it will be every Christmas we’re here.”

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