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Friday, May 6, 2016

Lighting the sky for Christmas

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Betty Nowell, left, poses with her sister, Diann Pickett, in front of their Jenkins Store home. Pickett decorates every corner of their one-acre yard for Christmas. A donation box is a recent addition.
On Dec. 26, Diann Pickett will begin shopping for and adding to her already colossal outdoor Christmas display near the tiny community of Jenkins Store.

If she can find decorations on sale, she'll stash them next to her molded plastic wise men, inflatable carolers, whimsical plywood bears and lighted wire angels in her storage sheds until next fall.

"It's my Christmas present to myself," Pickett said from her cozy -- and Christmas adorned -- living room.

Outside her traditional Missouri rock home at the junction of Highway 142 and Route H east of Couch schools, Pickett's one-acre yard is filled with every conceivable Christmas icon, with baby Jesus at the most prominent spot in front of an old, blue wooden cross.

After dark

At night, the twinkling, sparkling display could be seen for miles, if not for the hills and trees. Instead, unsuspecting motorists come upon the scene when rounding a curve where the two highways converge.

Anything not moving, including the blackberry trellis and children's swing set, is trimmed in lights, garland or holly. Hundreds of decorations cover the yard, garden and flower beds.

When Pickett flips the power switch after sunset, music plays, a carousel whirls, air-filled snowmen pop up and thousands of colorful lights gleam.

Pickett said she has no idea how many lights or individual pieces are in her yard, although she knows (because she winds them up each year) that she has more than 100 electric extension cords.

"I use every bit of that," Pickett laughed. "Every time I add something, I have to get more cords."

In fact, it is only the cords that Pickett asks visitors to watch out for when they tour her display.

When Pickett's electricity bill increased by $100 a month to energize the massive exhibit, she placed a donation box alongside the road, and was surprised to gather $12 from it.

Spreading joy

Pickett said she smiles when passersby stop to look or take photos of her work.

Her most memorable thank you came about three years ago when an elderly man called at 10 p.m. to say he'd enjoyed her display more than any other.

"I guess that's why I'm doing this, to make people happy -- and me, too," Pickett said.

Pickett later learned her display admirer died only a few days after calling.

One piece at a time

Pickett began her outside Christmas-decorating tradition years ago with a single ornament, the eight-foot-tall blue cross her late husband made.

Next came the huge nativity set now dressing up an old building foundation.

Artifical pine trees surround a large clod of dirt where a tall oak tree once stood.

"That stump was such an eyesore, I had to decorate it," Pickett said.

Raised behind Norman Church, Pickett has always enjoyed decking the halls for Christmas, a custom she learned from her mother.

"Mama always liked decorating," she said.

Pickett, however, never had the space to fully express her own creativity until buying her home nine years ago.

"This place was perfect," she said.

Then, through after-holiday store sales, garage sales and gifts from family and friends, Pickett's display began growing.

Many pieces are also handmade works of art, such as the giant-sized candle crafted from a discarded potato chip rack.

Pickett spent two days weaving the fishing line onto a metal frame for her "rainbow tree" that looks amazingly like a rainbow when lit.

Gifts from afar

One of Pickett's daughters brought her the wooden praying Santa from Alabama. The plywood cutout of Mr. and Mrs. Claus kissing is a gift from a niece in Texas.

Neighbor Joyce Taylor gave Pickett a large painted plywood Santa and five reindeer a few years ago, if Pickett would agree to display it.

"I said, 'You bet I will,'" Pickett said.

Taylor's late husband had made the pieces, which Pickett carefully repainted to match the original artistry.

A pleasing hobby

Pickett lives with her sister, Betty Nowell, but the display is entirely Pickett's project.

"I turn the lights on every once in a while when she's not here, but that's it," Nowell said.

"She doesn't really want any help," Dwayne Barcus, Pickett's boyfriend, said. "It's her hobby."

Pickett said she also decorates for Easter and Halloween, but those holiday displays are nothing compared to her favorite season -- Christmas.

Plus, she doesn't have enough storage space for more festivities. Her sheds have already overflowed into the stock trailer and camper.

October is not yet ended each year when Pickett begins setting out her Christmas ornaments, creating an interesting merger of ghosts and angels for a time. Eventually the decorations are divided.

Pickett said each of her four children look forward to her annual display, as do her neighbors and friends.

"I love Christmas," Pickett said.

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