WESTLAND, Mass. Ginger Thomasen is head of the Junior League in this western suburb of Boston, an activity she chose because it “keeps her busy and isn’t political,” she says as she sweeps away her frosted blonde hair. “People get so riled up over trivial things like what’s going on in the Middle East–I’ve got a big Christmas house tour to organize!”
“I think we need to add a few more wreaths.”
That event, in which several local homes are decorated by top-name designers and opened to the public for an admission charge, is the biggest fund-raiser on the organization’s calendar, generating financial support for the League’s many worthwhile programs. “I don’t know where we’d be without it,” says Marilynne Grimes, past-president of the chapter. “We might have to choose between Needlepoint for the Homeless and Paddle Tennis for Gangbangers, both of which are doing such wonderful things.”
Platform tennis or “paddle”: You don’t have to be a WASP, but it helps.
But the League’s outreach campaign, a “Friends of the Holiday House Tour” drive that uses mailing lists to increase attendance, has met with opposition from an unexpected quarter; husbands of female residents of the town, who have organized their own group, “Enemies of the Holiday House Tour,” complete with website and cheery, hand-painted signs they place in the windows of local hardware and liquor stores.
“Topiary trees are like prunes. Is 2 enough? Is 6 too many?”
“It’s a net loss to guys who have to pay the bills,” says Jeffrey Skocol, an accountant who has studied the financial effect of the house tour over a three-year period. “The women buy new outfits and get their hair done–then they come home and want to redo the den French provincial style.”
“A wrought-iron bed in the sunroom–how whimsical!”
And so for the first time in its long history in this town, where starter homes get a running start at around $1.3 million, the League is having to fight back using tactics more suited to a big city mayoral campaign than a festive holiday social occasion. “Don’t believe the lies!” Thomasen says as she stands outside the town’s only coffee shop and grocery store. “Christmas house tours change lives!”
Ye Olde Hardware Store: Quaintness so thick you can hit it with a stick.
Across the parking lot Skocol and his friend Trip Hargrove, a former investment banker who’s been reduced to an in-home consulting business since financial markets crashed four years ago, hold signs saying “Keep House Tour $ at Home” and “Decorating is a Financial Disease.” “I don’t like controversy any more than the next guy,” says Hargrove. “Unfortunately for the decorating zombies, the next guy is this knucklehead here.”
“We have a dogs-playing-poker print in progress on Woodmere Lane. Anybody there? Guys?”
Municipal authorities are doing their best to keep tensions from escalating into violence, but the women say they are at a disadvantage due to the composition of the local police force. “The dispatcher’s a woman and that’s about it,” notes Grimes, an empty-nester who just recently persuaded her husband to take down their son’s basketball goal. “You call about a bumper pool table in the dining room and the cops say it’s not domestic violence.”