By Stephanie Dolan
The elves at the North Pole don’t take a break. Whether it’s spring, summer, fall or the Christmas season itself, preparation for Christmas is constant, and an undertaking so vast that sometimes even Santa Claus needs a little help.
Dotted all over the map, outposts with these special Santa’s helpers are always ready with a kind word, a special treat or a neatly wrapped gift. One of these hard-working outposts can be found at 10 E. Edgewood Ave. Home to Cathy and Billy Garrigus, this house is a beacon on the Southside, a literal light that shines brightly through each holiday season. This patch of land that sits on the northeast corner of Edgewood and S.R. 135 in Perry Township is covered in lights, blow up scenes and homemade novelties built by Billy himself.
Most nights, depending on the weather, the couple can be found on their driveway, decked out in holiday outfits and ready to pass out candy canes to passersby and children who stop to admire their handiwork.
On Friday evening, children could be heard walking through the safe, fenced-off paths through the Garrigus yard and exclaiming, “Wow! … Look at these! … This is so cool!”
On a recent Friday, Billy’s sister, Debbie, had also joined in the fun, dressing up to complement the Southside’s own Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
“She’s going to play our elf tonight,” said Billy, 55.
How it started
“When we moved here 12 years ago, I decided I was going to fill the yard up from one end to the other, and I think I’ve done a very good job,” Cathy said. “Each year we add more and more. Last year, Billy built our Ferris wheel. This year, he built the carousel. Each year, after Christmas, we go and we get a little more. We’ve had a few electrical issues, but we have it straightened out.”
Yes, as soon as the holiday decorations start getting marked down, the Garrigus’ head to Lowes and start shopping for the following year.
“We love it,” Cathy said.
Cathy said that – so far – last year was the best year for fans of her ever-growing light display.
“Last year was our best year so far,” she said. “We never had the hoops over the driveway. When we added those last year, we had more people stop and want to take their picture under them. We’ve done two years of red, so next year we’re going to do blue lights. We like to change things up.”
The couple also decorate just as heavily at Halloween, and many of the same people who come by to admire the Christmas lights also enjoy the spooky display in October.
“I love Halloween,” Cathy said. “We’ve made a few friends. One of the gentleman who works at Harbor Freight, a gentleman who’s the manager at Walgreens, a couple two or three streets over who come over regularly and we talk because of the Halloween decorations. We’ve had more of our neighbors stop and introduce themselves. It’s definitely pulled a few people towards us.”
Cathy said that the people who love her display and who she meets as a result are exactly why the couple spends so much time decorating each year.
Why they do it
“The reason we do all this is because of the kind words and the letters that we get,” she said. “Just yesterday I had the following note left in my door:”
“Thank you for putting up nice Christmas lights and Halloween lights. We enjoy them very much. We like looking at them. They look so good. It must cost a lot of money for your electric bill, so we want to give you some money. We get so much joy from them, we want to say thank you. Samantha and Will and our family.”
“I had a $10 in here, a $5, three $1’s and two dollars in quarters,” Cathy said. “These kids left me $20 that they probably earned. This is why we do what we do – for the kids – for the buses that pulled up here with all the elderly people. It gives us joy for me to open this letter and see this. We went out today and purchased gifts with this money. This is the first letter we’ve ever gotten with a return address, and we’re going to take these toys we purchased with that money to the children who left us this letter.”
Cathy said she and Billy are going to go dressed up in their costumes and deliver a little Christmas magic to some children who love their Christmas lights – Christmas lights that take quite a bit of work.
“It takes three weeks to put up the lights and take them down,” she said. “That also depends on mother nature. On bad days I can’t get out. It’s taken us longer this year than it ever has. We started putting Christmas up as soon as we took Halloween down. We don’t know when we’re getting snow or bad weather. We start on the house first, add the lights, the blow ups and then everything else.”
Cathy said her favorite pieces are the ones that Billy made himself.
Where it’s going
“My favorites have to be what my husband built and that’s the Ferris wheel and the carousel,” she said.
Cathy and Billy met at work. They’ve been together for 15 years and just had an anniversary this past Monday.
“He’s the best Christmas present I could ever ask for,” Cathy said. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I’ve been married four times. At this point, I could take care of myself, but Billy’s about the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Cathy, now 61, said she was laid off from a job of 25 years on Dec. 1, 2001.
“They just shut the doors,” she said. “Where do you go after being on a job for 25 years? How do you start over after 25 years? I was 44 years old. My mom’s boss told me to go downtown to Diamond Chain – that they were hiring. I came out of a food factory wearing white clothes and went down to diamond chain – they make chain – it’s grease and dirt. And that’s where I met my maintenance man. He was there for 24 years, and three years ago he had two heart attacks and open-heart surgery. So I feel now that he’s the best gift I’ve ever had.”
Cathy also said she wants everyone to know how much she appreciates all the support from fans on the Southside.
“I just really want our Southside community to know how much we appreciate their support,” she said. “The letters we get, the gifts cards we get, the kind words we get … people yelling from their cars about how much they love our yard. It just all means so much to us.”
5 Questions with Cathy Garrigus:
What does Christmas mean to you? Love and giving.
Which is better, giving or receiving? Giving. We love to give.
What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Putting out my lights, of course. We don’t have kids. There’s nothing on the inside of my house. I put my joy in the front yard.
What is your favorite Christmas carol? “Jingle Bells.”
What are you most looking forward to this Christmas? I’m most looking forward to seeing people enjoy this Christmas display.