By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Every time Ashley Harris wraps a strand of brightly colored lights around a bush or a branch, he thinks of his grandfather.
“When I was a kid, he started putting Christmas lights on his house in Water Valley and I got to help,” said Harris, a geriatrician in Tupelo. “I liked to see the reactions of different people in the community. I was 14 or 15 when he passed away, and I started lighting my folks’ house. I always think about him when I’m doing it. There are a lot of good memories there.”
Today, Harris is making a lot of good memories for the Tupelo community. For the second year, the good doctor has decked the outside of his house with red, green, white, gold and – this year – blue Christmas lights, and invited families to stop and admire them.
“I usually start in November and it takes me three to four weeks to get them all up,” he said. “I try to turn them on right before Thanksgiving.”
And just how many lights does it take to cover his Tutor-style house on North Madison, as well as trees, bushes and shrubs in the yard?
“I have no idea,” he said. “It would be a complete guess, but probably around 60,000.”
Harris uses individual strands of lights, not the net-type, and he has only one tool: a ladder.
“I don’t use or rent any kind of special equipment,” he said. “I attach the lights to the shingles on the roof with bobby pins. When I’m putting up the lights each year, I think, ‘You know, there are other things I want to do, but I’m going to save that idea for next year. This is enough for this year.’”
Moving toward LED
Harris and his wife, Jennifer, have always decorated their home with lights at Christmastime, even when he was in medical school and she was in nursing school.
“We had a house in Flowood and we went all out there, too,” he said. “I’ve gotten more adventurous over the years. The first houses I did in just clear and green lights.”
Recently, he’s been trying to replace traditional colored lights with LED lights.
“They use less power and they’re more energy efficient,” he said. “They’re more expensive – $12 to $15 a strand, compared to $3 for the regular ones – but I rarely have a problem with them going out.”
The LED lights also help with the electric bill. Harris estimates his bill doubles for the month of December.
“It’s not as bad as people think it is,” he said. “The most expensive thing is just buying the lights.”
When it comes time to take the lights down, he’ll roll them around big wooden spools, the kind that cable comes on. Then next year, he’ll just hang the spool and pull lights off as he needs them.
Harris always outlines the house in white lights and then uses colored lights for the yard.
“I put up the colored lights in the evenings so I can stand back and look and try to balance the color,” he said. “I also get inspiration from my neighbor, Tony Ford, who lives down the street. It’s been fun for me having a neighbor who also enjoys lights. The more lights you have on a street, the more traffic you get.”
And Harris wants lots of traffic this year.
Tonight and Saturday night, after dark if the weather permits, Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty and an assortment of elves will be out in the front yard to greet passers-by, and Santa will even pose for pictures with folks, if they bring their own cameras.
And if you’d like, you may drop a donation into a bucket.
But the money isn’t for the Harrises.
“In recent years, since my brother has been in the military, we’ve tried to do the Christmas lights around a cause,” he said. “Last year, we raised about $1,000 through donations for a soldier who had been wounded overseas.”
This year, Harris’ brother, Larry, and his wife, Maggie, are both serving in Afghanistan. On Nov. 9, Larry Harris’ captain, James Nehl, was killed in action.
“He had a 2-year-old son, Alex, and this year any money we raise will benefit Alex,” Harris said. “You don’t have to make a donation to get your picture taken. It’s strictly up to you.”
You can also make a donation to the Alex Nehl Benefit Fund, c/o BancorpSouth, Premier Banking, P.O. Box 789, Tupelo, MS 38802.
“I absolutely love to watch other people enjoy all this,” Harris said as a string of cars slowed to gawk at the outdoor display. “It’s fun to watch people go by, especially the kids. It makes the work all worth it. It’s just a great time of year.”
How you can help
Santa will be in the Harrises’ front yard tonight and Saturday night and will be more than happy to pose for pictures with children (bring your own camera). If you’d like to make a donation to help 2-year-old Alex Nehl, whose father was killed in action in Afghanistan, you can drop some money in a bucket while you’re there. Or you can send a check to the Alex Nehl Benefit Fund, c/o BancorpSouth, Premier Banking, P.O. Box 789, Tupelo, MS 38802.