A HISTORY OF OUR DISPLAY

To the one question people always ask: “What made you start to do this?”, I can only reply, “I think I was born this way.” My earliest memories from being a very young child were of asking my father to take me for a ride “to see the blue lights”—which were the new fluorescent lights on the new high bridge in St. Paul. Compared to incandescent lights, the new lights were blue, beautiful and wonderous to a very little girl! Whether it was the lights of the city, the lights on our Christmas tree (on which my mother would painstakingly hang tinsel strand by strand—which so captivated my young eyes as a baby that I just had to touch it...and of course pull the entire tree down), or anything that was bright, shiny and colorful, I can never remember a time that Christmas lights did not excite me or make me smile. I was also blessed by being from a wonderful musical family; so holidays were in themselves times of great merriment and joy—especially Christmas...with all the trimmings. My mother and wonderful aunts were impeccable in creating an atmosphere of decor and color—perfect in every way down to the last detail. Not one loop of a hand-made bow was ever out of place on my Auntie Marian’s colorful gifts. My uncles owned a tree farm—so the perfect Christmas tree was a requirement at a very early age. And every tree in everyone’s house was filled with copius amounts of perfectly placed lights, bright and shiny bulbs and ornaments, tinsel and garland--creating an atmosphere of perpetual holiday happiness. The crowning glory was Christmas dinner at Grandma’s or our house...with the table perfectly and festively set with the best china, silverware and glassware, mounds of the most perfectly prepared (and colorfully displayed) food known to man, and hours of wonderful Christmas, popular and Italian music well into the night (everyone in our family played an instrument or sang, with my father being a wonderful classical tenor and my mother usually playing the piano). Coming from such a childhood, is it any wonder that I grew up with more than the typical delusions and expectations of grandeur when it came to the Christmas season?

Leaving out the middle of my life, one day God brought Bob into it. Bob...a simple man who tried to do his best in life, worked hard at his job as a union operating engineer, who had no idea what he was getting into when he generously offered to “put up a few strings of lights” for me at our house on Elmo Road in Minnetonka about 19 years ago. But then there was this huge 40’ pine tree...which seemed to just be crying out for lights. Back in those days, there was no lift—just scaffolding; but Bob was up to the challenge. And then there was a maple tree...which looked sort of lost now that the pine tree had lights. And the house itself...which needed “something” because of the two trees. That was in the days when we had a snow plow route (Bob is marvelous with any type of machinery) and we had a pile of lathe at the house to put at the ends of people’s driveways so the drivers would know where the edges were in deep snow. And one day I went shopping and came home 4 hours later to see that my wonderful and extremely creative longtime friend, Don, had taken the lathe and built the most beautiful large manger out of it—for our nativity figures. I remember driving up, sitting at the curb, and crying because it was so beautiful. I guess it went from there—and the rest is history. No one can decorate just one outdoor tree. Any Christmas fanatic will tell you that. We were certainly no exception. Before long, our small yard was covered with plastic figures of every kind, other assorted bought and homemade items, and as many lights as we could physically eke out of our humble 100-amp electrical service. I remember many nights of sitting in our livingroom in the dark while people walked all over our yard looking at this or that—smiling! (The reason for the dark is that we literally used every single ounce of power we had for the Christmas lights—including the TV outlet—and one didn’t dare try to use the microwave.) It was truly amazing how fast that electrical meter could spin around—and even make noise! One of the TV stations even commented on that when they showed pictures of our display on the weather/news.

Well, eventually, of course, we ran out of room due to the Christmas display. It was after all only a small older 3-level house with a partial basement—most of which was the single-car garage—with absolutely no storage. And really no garage either since the little garage was now full of Christmas stuff. It finally occurred to us that renting huge storage spaces just for the Christmas stuff was not the most cost-effective thing to do; so we set out to find a different house. There were some nice houses, but they were all quickly eliminated because they did not have the right setting for the Christmas display. Then one day we looked at a house on Lake Lucy Road...a modest rambler (we could have used much more space) but on two beautiful acres with 200’ of road frontage. It was an all-electric home, which would have scared most people at that time; but when we saw those two wonderful 200-amp electrical boxes, we both looked at each other and said, “Wow! 400 amps!” And it had a 2-car detached garage—with a walk-up loft for storage. More excitement. The first thing we did was to put in gas hot water heat and run that marvelous 400 amp electrical service throughout the lot. The poor neighbors had no idea who or what had moved into their neighborhood, as the second thing Bob did was to run trenches throughout the entire lot to bury electrical wiring. It looked like a huge mole had gone crazy in our yard. People would drive by, slow down, stare at the yard, turn to each other, shake their heads, and slowly drive away. The die had been cast.

Every year, the display grew. Who knew how much stuff could be crammed onto two acres—but we endeavored to do our best to find out. Enter the era of the high lift/”cherry picker”—which mercifully Bob could operate or we could never have afforded to hang lights in the many 70’ pine trees, huge willows, and other trees. The cost of renting the lift itself is bad enough, but God must love lights also as He always gave us enough appraisal business to be able to rent it. In the beginning, Santa always sat in his candy-cane decorated log chair up by the street to see the children. But the first year we rented the live reindeer changed all that; there were so many people in that tiny little area that both Santa and the reindeer literally got buried in the crowds of people. So we got the idea to open up/move part of the display into our large driveway—much more room for Santa, the sleigh, the reindeer, and great amounts of people. Our driveway became like a little town square! Very festive. And with more than enough room to put up the new carousel...the large Merry Christmas blocks...the new display cases on the front of the house...and...and....

Now, after 10 years here, we have 700 amps, a bobcat, a road through our yard (or what used to be our yard), some buildings, a lot full of huge boulders to which Lake Superior’s North Shore would pale by comparison, a 40-foot sleigh/Santa and 7 not-so-tiny reindeer on the roof (no room for 8 unless Rudolph goes, or unless we add on to the house), 2 live reindeer, 2 minature donkeys, a miniature horse, 2 llamas and 2 huge pole buildings and a barn. It now takes 3 months to put up what used to take 3 weekends. We have 3 seasons: pre-Christmas, Christmas, and post-Christmas. We work all year to be able to support the Christmas display once a year. Someone suggested that we put out a guest book, and we were truly amazed to see our display visited by people from all over the world—Europe, Japan, Africa, Mexico, Asia, South America, Australia, and Canada—in addition to all over Minnesota and the United States. In 2000, Channel 11 did a short special on the display—for which they won a national Emmy award. Pretty overwhelming for two people who used to sit in a dark living room, watching the people go by--who have no children of their own but seem to continue to be in perpetual childhood themselves. Probably not quite “normal” (my brother would say eccentric), but the display appears to have brought much happiness to a great many people...

We had no idea how much until three years ago when Bob hurt his back and could not do the display. We felt terrible about disappointing all the people, so we put out a lighted sign in the front yard, explaining why we could not do the display that year...and it became sort of like one of those places where someone gets killed on a road and people leave flowers and things at the site. Out by our sign, people started leaving artificial floral bouquets, cards and little gifts. They brought cookies, fresh baked bread, bakery and fruit baskets to our house. A group even came to our house to sing Christmas carols on our anniversary (which date of course is as close to Christmas as I could get it). They sent hundreds of the most beautiful cards and letters, thanking us for doing the display, and telling us wonderful stories of how the display had affected their lives, how much a part it was of their family’s holiday traditions, and how much happiness it had brought them. One letter, which was unsigned, said, “You don’t know me, and that’s not important. I know you know how much joy your display gives to people. But I don’t know if you know how much of a ministry it is...” The sender went on to say how she had been extremely depressed for quite some time and had decided to kill herself—she just hadn’t decided how. She said she was driving around and found herself in front of our display...and it gave her so much joy that she decided to go and get help for her depression. And she said that she was now in training to help others with their depression. Needless to say, we shed a few tears. There are other stories, too. Like the little boy with cerebral palsy, who could talk of nothing all year but The Christmas House...who died but whose parents called to thank us for the joy it brought him. Or the man who called us and asked us to turn the display back on in January so that his elderly mother who could not walk, and who since had died, could come and see it on her birthday—which gave her so much happiness, and he simply called to thank us (I still have that message saved on our US West voice messaging). Or the little girl who learned to talk during the time between one Christmas and the next, whose parents told us of how the one thing she talked about all year was how Frosty had hugged her. Or the bus of seniors from a senior home who tearfully reminisced of how the display reminded them of things in their childhood. Or the mother and child who knocked on our door late one night after we had turned off the lights, who asked if we could please turn them back on for a few minutes as they had traveled all the way from Rochester to bring the pennies and coins the child had saved all year to bring as a donation for the poor and elderly people through our Christmas Display. Or the young boy who wanted to interview us for a school project, who said that perhaps when he grows up he can do something like this for others also.

We decided long ago that whatever the cost, helping others and giving them joy (in a world that unfortunately has little joy in it for a lot of people these days) is the most important thing. We will truly never know how the display affects each person...what goes through their minds and hearts. We simply ask God to bless each one who comes here, and pray that in some way they will be blessed, and that their lives will be positively affected with much happiness and the peace and joy of Christmas.