Windsor couple goes all out with Christmas decor

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 17, 2007

WINDSOR—Hurricane Isabel brought them together four years ago, but holiday decorations apparently keep them together today.

James and Lou Early of Windsor have what can mildly be called a fascination with holiday decorating, especially when it comes to Christmas decorating. Christmas decorating is fun and lasts longer than most holidays. The days get darker earlier allowing the lights to shine to their fullest for more hours, and there’s a host of choices for such decorations.

It seems the Earlys have that part down pat.

James and Lucille have an interesting past, which begets their interesting present.

But first, their Christmas decorations of present, of which there are hundreds, outside and inside. The outside kind is the easiest place to start. To give directions to their house in Windsor, you can forget about &uot;making a left at the second traffic light,&uot; or &uot;just beyond the fire house on the left.&uot; That’s not necessary. Their place is the glow along Rt. 460 to the west of Windsor.

Between the inflatable decorations — operated by remote control — and the illuminated kind, it’s simply difficult to miss their front yard at night.

Sometimes people don’t, stopping to ask about the display, ask where the parts came from and, of course, ask the simple and obvious question, &uot;Why?&uot;

&uot;We just do it for the people&uot; who stop along the busy highway to get a glimpse, ask a question or simply snap a photo, says 70-year-old James. &uot;We just have fun doing it.&uot;

To Lucille, or &uot;Lou,&uot; it means something to the &uot;people stopping by and saying how much they enjoy it and how much they look forward to it.&uot;

Even some of the railroad workers have commented on the display, an obvious distraction from their otherwise long, dark line of service that cuts behind the Early property and through Windsor.

They will admit their effort is a tad on the excessive side, but it doesn’t seem to matter a great deal.

&uot;Hey,&uot; says James, &uot;I’m 70. I don’t care.&uot;

Lou says her daughter calls them &uot;The Griswalds,&uot; after a fictional family in the &uot;National Lampoon&uot; movie series, one that includes an over-the-top effort to decorate their house.

&uot;One night, coming back from dinner,&uot; says Lou, &uot;We get to the house and the lights are out.&uot; Turns out a fuse was blown in one of the many outdoor connections. But her daughter said, &uot;The Griswalds are at it again.&uot;

The couple, who married late in life after their spouses died, keep after the decorating, even though Lou’s 69-year-old nerve-damaged feet give her more trouble each year.

&uot;People come by and ask, ‘How in the world do you do it all?’ &uot;

Fair question.

&uot;Well,&uot; Lou says, &uot;We do it.&uot;

This year, Lou took organizational steps never before taken. She diagrammed the placement of each of the decorations — all the inflatable ones, all the lighted trees and bushes and fake animals. She then diagrammed on a second sheet of paper the layout of the considerable web of extension cords needed to supply Dominion’s power to the front yard, back yard and each side yard.

&uot;Look at this,&uot; says James, pointing to the electric meter spinning at a healthy rate. &uot;That’s about as fast as it goes when this air conditioner unit’s going in the summer.&uot;

But it’s still difficult to fathom how they collected all this stuff in just four years.

They’re shopped retail and online.

&uot;If they’re got it,&uot; Lou says, &uot;our noses will find it.&uot;

Or, in some cases, store clerks will call them to alert them of a new shipment. One such sales clerk at K mart promised to stop by this weekend to look at the display she helped sell the couple.

James, who on Wednesday installed some new pieces while wearing shorts and a South States short-sleeve work shirt in the unseasonably warm afternoon, succinctly addressed the financial side of the couple’s hobby.

&uot;I’ve told my children I’m spending my money now, and they ain’t getting any,&uot; he said, a statement punctuated with an unmistakable cackle that’s right out of a black-and-white Hollywood western.

Their yard being filled with display pieces isn’t the only thing that’s grown in four years. For that story, Lou said, &uot;I have to sit down,&uot; and did so at the picnic bench in their back yard

Hurricane Isabel hit the North Carolina shore in September 2003 and headed inland, bringing heavy rain and strong winds to the Tidewater area. Lou’s son lived here at the time, and told his mom that he and his wife needed some help to recover from the storm.

Lou came up from her home in Louisiana, when she met James, a retired truck driver for Southern States.

It’s not that simple. Lou’s son is married to James’ stepdaughter.

So, naturally, they met.

&uot;He asked me out on a date,&uot; she said. Both had lost their spouses about four years earlier. Apparently, things between the two clicked. James followed Lou to Louisiana.

&uot;He thought I wasn’t coming back,&uot; says Lou.

But forces of family drew them back to Windsor, to James’s property where he’s lived for more than 20 years. Lou sold her place in the Deep South to settle in Isle of Wight County.

And their collection grew.

&uot;This year,&uot; says James, &uot;we got five new blow-ups. No. six new. Seven — eight new.&uot; Then the cackle again.

Of the 63 they own, 49 are placed in plain sight. The other 14 might find a prominent location by Dec. 25.

&uot;You put ’em up,&uot; says James. &uot;Every year you’ve got to take them down.&uot;

&uot;Taking them down is a lot easier,&uot; says Lou.

Then it’s time to prepare for the next holiday. They don’t seem to mind.