Christmas lights have been around since the invention of the light bulb. As they have become more common and more elaborate displays come to market, some people have packed their yards with brightly lit totems to the Christmas season.
“I started nine years ago with one little blowup that I still have,” said Jamie Clary, whose display on Huntington Drive includes a yard full of inflatable decorations.
The first piece was a gift from his wife, something to commemorate their first Christmas together. Before they moved to their current home with a larger yard three years ago, Clary had almost run out of space for his displays.
“I’ve got a couple of bus drivers who want me to cut them on in the morning because they say when they’re getting those little kids they enjoy (the decorations) and want to slow down and look at it,” he said.
It doesn’t take Fantasy in Lights to draw observers to Christmas lights around LaGrange. Home decorators have found no lack of observers and admirers of their work.
“We’ve had people that come over here and see the lights, and they’d have visitors from out of town and they’d bring them over here to see the lights,” said Billy Crews, whose wife, Patsy, has been decorating their Callaway Avenue residence for about 30 years.
“People, they hold their kids up on their head and they’re just looking at it.”
The Crewses have become known around town for their lights, which light up the corner of Callaway Avenue and Dallis Street. Rhonda Hicks, their daughter, lives across the street and also has amassed a large collection of decorations over the last 13 years.
“I can’t (keep up with my mother). I try,” Hicks said. “Maybe eventually I’ll get to where she’s at, but it’s going to have to accumulate.”
The enthusiasm can even start before the lights switch on. Evelyn Clay, who has been working on her display on Hicks Road with her husband, Paul, for a decade, said neighbors and passersby will compliment them on the decorations while the couple are still setting them up.
“We have people stop by while we’re putting them up and say, ‘It’s gonna look good, it’s gonna look good,’” Evelyn Clay said.
The Clays got a scare after a neighbor walked into their yard to see the decorations close up one night. They didn’t notice him until he was at their porch.
“All of a sudden I saw this face, and it was someone from down the street who had come up to see the yard,” she said. “He told me, ‘I couldn’t wait for you to get the yard fixed up and come up here and see it.’ ”
The Crews family begins the ritual of getting the decorations out in the middle of October to get it ready to turn on Thanksgiving night. That’s still not fast enough for some people.
“People start asking her in October when she’s going to put her stuff up,” Billy Crews said.
“Actually before October,” Patsy Crews said. “People are out there at all times of the night, walking up and down in front of the fence.”
The corner of Callaway Avenue and Dallis Street gets plenty of visitors on a nightly basis. In a 15-minute span, dozens of cars slowed to see the light displays that packed the yards of the Crews and Hicks households. Several people even got out of their cars to take photos.
Collecting the decorations isn’t cheap – neither is the electricity – but the yard-decorators find way to secure bargains on their displays. For Evelyn Clay, her husband serves as a great alternative to buying many displays at the store. Many times when they find an item they like, he can build one just like it.
“After Christmas, we’ll go somewhere and see something, and she’ll say, ‘That would look good in the yard,’” Paul Clay said.
“And he would either build it or find it somewhere,” she finished.
The Clays also refurbish decorations they find on the side of the road, awaiting the trash truck.
Clary gets most of his decorations at yard sales or goes to buy new items the day after Christmas when they are on clearance. On a trip to South Carolina, he scored a pair of globelike decorations that sell for about $200 for about $15.
“I couldn’t turn that deal down,” he said with a smile.
Clary and the Crewses said their costs don’t skyrocket too badly during the season, but the Clays said theirs double. The Clays also put in about $600 in work to add wiring in their yard and put their decorations on independent electrical breakers, because the load was causing the lights inside their home to dim when the displays lit up. The Crewses did the same.
Each of the decorators also have something adorning their yard that is special to them. For Clary, it’s the first decoration his wife got him, which he plans to keep, even when it eventually deflates.
Evelyn Clay has a special place in her heart for two rows of lighted wire trees that her husband made for her.
“They’re special to me because he made them by hand,” she said. “He worked and worked and worked one summer making them and finally got them ready.”
Paul Clay doesn’t feel the same sentimental attachment. He finds their upkeep too tedious to keep putting them out every year.
“Every year he fights me about putting them out there,” she added. “And I say, ‘no, you’re not going to throw my green trees away.’”
Patsy Crews holds dear four choir boys on her side porch. The 40- to 50-year-old decorations were part of the first few that Crews received from a neighbor about three decades ago that started her collection.
“They’ve got sentimental value, because I got them from the people next door, who passed (away),” she said. “But you also can’t get them any more. It’s just – I’ve always like them. Everybody’s always liked the choir boys.”
She even turned away a man who tried to buy them from her one year.
“He tried his best to buy them,” Billy Crews said.
“I don’t sell my Christmas stuff,” his wife declared.
The homeowners are driven to decorate because of the looks on people’s faces when they go past. They like seeing children enjoying the lights, staring in wonder.
Clary likes how it entertains his grandchildren. His 3-year-old granddaughter won’t leave their home unless she hugs a display of cartoon character “Dora the Explorer” in their front yard.
“She won’t get in the car unless she walks all the way over there and hugs Dora,” Clary said.
They all share a belief in showing their Christmas spirit, and are inspired to help spread the festive feelings to anyone who comes by their homes. That’s how they were bitten by the decorating bug.
Evelyn Clay started her collections because she enjoyed going around town and seeing others’ decorations. Now they run into people in Peachtree City and Newnan who’ve heard of their display.
Clary has long taken his family to Valley, Ala., each year to see a neighborhood street in the Shawmut community that decorates. His initial inspiration to start collecting came from the Crews home.
“When I was little, I’d say ‘man I’d like to have that much one day,’” Clary said. “She’s got everything.”
• Santa Claus will appear at the Crews residence at 801 Callaway Ave. from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Matthew Strother can be reached at mstrother@
lagrangenews.com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 229.