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Birney Imes: The spirit of Christmas in lights


Birney Imes



A reader emailed to ask if I was going to do a Christmas lights tour this year. I wrote back saying I wasn't (regrettably) and suggested some tried-and-true routes she could drive and be assured of seeing impressive holiday lights. 


She could do by car what my daughter and I did on foot on a warm night earlier in the week. We took a walking light tour on Southside. Just south of what was Fuqua's Grocery on 11th Street, Sarah Smith and a young man were putting on the finishing touches to an impressive Christmas array. There we turned east on 11th Avenue and walked past Turner and Audra Jackson's place. On the opposite side of that block, at 820 10th Ave. S., is the home of Lizzie Clemmons, the doyenne of Christmas decor, at least on Southside. Lizzie's yard is always impressive. 


Lizzie's Northside counterpart is Idella Bankhead, whose house on 16th Avenue North near the Sunflower just off Military is always bedecked with lights and guarded by a troop of inflatables this time of year.  Idella said she did all the decorating herself. "I'm hanging in there," the 66-year-old mother of eight said Friday afternoon. "I'll be 67 on New Year's," she said. 


We wandered aimlessly on our walk, which is what I suggested the woman do who asked about the tour. I encouraged her to ride out to Caledonia by way of Military and Wolf roads. A friend called the display of lights across from (and what will be again ) the Cal-City Grocery in Caledonia ridiculous.  


After exploring Caledonia, backtrack down Wolf Road. Rather than going all the way back to Military, take a right on Cherokee -- that's the intersection where the Gilmer boys have a watermelon stand in July. Stay on Cherokee, which at Jess Lyons becomes Ridge. At Spivey, you can go right and cruise down to Ben Morgan Road, but be careful for the deer. This time of year that strip is known as White Deer Lane. 


Be sure, though, to turn around and get back on Ridge. In the flat area where all the churches are, Greg Blaugh and Sue Miller have made a not so subtle holiday statement at 2575 Ridge Road. You can't miss it; 33,200 lights mark the spot, says to Greg, who when I happened by Friday night, was standing in his driveway shooting video of his creation. 


"It wasn't supposed to go this far," said Blaugh, who grew up in Pontiac, Mich., and owns GTS Transmissions. 


It's gone so far Blaugh has to use a 5,000-watt generator to power his Christmas lights. Otherwise his bathroom lights go dim. 


"It's going to be bigger next year," Blaugh promised. 


If you're of the mind to go to West Point, take a left on Eshman as you enter town on Highway 50. Drive past West Point High and go right on Churchill. Shortly thereafter you'll come to Eddie Lantz's "The Hill" on the left. 


Lantz's mother, Evelyn, describes her son as a "49-year-old child who loves Christmas." 


For 20 years or so Lantz has been adding lights to his hillside array. 


"Folks are always worried about my electric bill," Lantz says. "As soon as the first kid says, 'I love it,' it's all worthwhile." 


One of the most surprising and unassuming Christmas displays can be found on Broad Street in West Point across from Southern Ionics. There J.B. and Curt Kisner replace and repair mufflers and radiators in a battered metal building. For years they have kept at the southwest corner of the building a six-foot-high pile of rusting mufflers and radiators that serves no apparent purpose. That changes in December when the Kisners cover that heap of rusting metal with Christmas lights. It is so incongruous and so unexpected, you can't  help but burst out laughing when you see first it. 


Here's hoping you find lots to laugh about this holiday season. 





Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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