KINGSTON — Under the cover of darkness, a small mob of middle-aged men hoisted the ancient appliance from the bed of a pickup and planted it in their victim’s front yard with all the stealth of a drunken department store Santa.
The Kingston tradition of surprising a borough resident with a holiday water heater — bedecked with Christmas lights, Hanukkah ornaments and a poinsettia and American flag at the top — continued Tuesday night at the Butler Street home of Dr. Fred Lombardo.
After the group finally found a working receptacle outside a neighbor’s house and plugged the thing in, someone rang the podiatrist’s doorbell. When he answered, the 10 men who delivered the festive monstrosity broke into an off-key chorus of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
“I heard that this can happen to you if you live in Kingston,” Lombardo said. “I was wondering what was happening because it wasn’t a polite doorbell ring, it was a multiple, like, angry doorbell ring, so I suspected something was up. I was ready for anything.”
Committee member Tom Paratore, a 2009 recipient of the heater, said he got roped into organizing this year’s event along with Doug Russ, Gary Michak and Stan Motyka, and presided over the vote for this year’s recipient over a few beers at a local pub earlier in the evening.
“He’s a community guy, a longtime resident,” Paratore said of Lombardo. “We look for people who are lifelong residents or longtime residents who know the town and are good to the town.”
Well-known in the community, Lombardo said he was born in 1967, the year his father bought Cook’s Pharmacy, which is still in the family. His sister and brother-in-law run the Kingston location and his brother runs the one in Shavertown.
Bernie Hurley reminded Lombardo of the rules of the tradition — he must make sure the water heater lights are lit each night until Christmas from dusk till dawn, and he must participate in the one-pickup parade through town when next year’s water heater is delivered.
“This is great. I love that this is a part of what happens in Kingston every year. It’s a bunch of good guys with a lot of great camaraderie, so I’m excited to be part of the group,” Lombardo said.