Rekindling a tradition

Skye Kinkade
Bob and Lori Quillen and Cathy and David Athens have put long hours into their holiday light display on Douglas Lane in Mount Shasta. Countless cartoon characters are lit by 30,000 lights, and visitors are welcome to come by until Jan. 10, when the lights will go out... until next year.

If you take a drive just outside Mount Shasta city limits on Lassen Lane this holiday season, you’re sure to see a glow emanating from David and Cathy Athens’ house on Douglas Lane.

Over the course of the last three years, the couple and their neighbors, Bob and Lori Quillen, have collected, repaired and carried on the traditional holiday light display that used to be at Mt. Shasta Memorial Park.

“We did it for the community,” David said last week, though he couldn’t say what possessed him to seek out decorations which had been stored away for approximately 18 years.

“It was just something I wanted to do,” he said. “At first, I?went and asked the cemetery’s owners if I?could start the display up again, and they said no. There was too  much liability involved. Then I asked them if I could take some of the decorations home, and they said yes.”

In 2007, David brought home just a few of the vintage decorations, which covered approximately one-third of his expansive yard.

“People would drive by and look. Last year, I got more and we got such a great response... so this year I?said, ‘I?want it all.’”

Characters from Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, the Flintstones, the Peanuts gang, Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Carebears delighted children in the 1980s when the display lit up the empty lot next to the cemetery.

“Before the decorations were at the cemetery, they belonged to Frank and Vivian Silva,” David pointed out. “Frank made them, then he got high school kids to paint them.”

The Silvas later donated their decorations to the cemetery, which continued the display until 1989 or so, when vandalism began to be a problem and the tradition ended.

The decorations were relegated to two large storage sheds, where they sat until David decided to dig them out.

The Athens’ display has been made even more impressive by the lighting of a big tree in the yard which has been adorned with 2,100 commercial grade LED lights, as well as several new cartoon characters, including Spongebob Squarepants and his counterpart, Patrick, Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer and Diego. A sound system pumps cheerful holiday music in the crisp night air as visitors wander through a sparkling winter wonderland.

In October, the Athens were  also happy to acquire the discarded house from Mount Shasta City Fire Department’s Santa’s Sleigh arrangement.

“We put a floor in, finished the roof, cut a few feet off of it, repainted and put in windows so there’d be a place to serve hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies,” David said.

“We had Santa Claus here five times, and the hot drinks were donated by the Coffee Brake,”?said Cathy. “Friends brought cookies over for us to give out.”

The massive tree’s lights were put up by Shannon Turner, and Northstate Tree Service donated the truck.

David rustled up $1,700 in donations from businesses and individuals around the community, including Mt. Shasta Memorial Park, Mike Cheula, Ramshaw’s Ace Hardware, Shooter’s Photography, Chuck and Roberta Frumerie, Dr. Curtis Smith, Noah’s Ark, Dr. Richard Shearer, Strings Restaurant, Round Table, Remax, Chris Schneider, Mt. Shasta Shell, My Favorite Things, Dave and Pat Halford, Shady Creek Preschool, PremierWest Bank, Sousa Ready Mix, Scott Valley Bank, Pepsi-Cola, Country Floors, Norm Dettman, Donna Wolff, Don Erickson, Eva Thompson, Lalo’s, and Freeman’s.

“Some people donated five bucks, others gave me a dollar,  but every little bit counts,” David said. “Everyone’s been so generous... the response we’ve had is enormous.”

The Athens’ yard was named December’s Yard of the Month by the Mount Shasta Garden Club – the first time that organization gave the award during the winter season.

Each night since the day after Thanksgiving, when they had their tree lighting ceremony, David said 50 or 60 cars make their way down Douglas Lane to see the big display, as well as the smaller one in the Quillen’s yard across the street, which contains the overflow.

On Christmas Eve, when the electricity caused so many to change their holiday plans, David said cars idled outside for hours waiting for the lights to come on.

“Some people got out of their cars and walked through in the dark.”

Christmas night, people were still coming by at midnight.

“We’ve had people come from all over – from Yreka, Vacaville and Chico,” David said, noting that Christmas light displays and decorated homes used to be more common.

The Gibbons family from Weed agreed. Sean and Dena and their eight year-old son, Byron, visited the display Saturday night, wandering down the pathway, enjoying the music and the lights.

“We came a few weeks ago during the cold snap, but it was hard to enjoy it, so we decided to come back again,” Sean said. “Growing up in Yreka, there was one street that we called Candyland... there were lights everywhere. Over the years, people moved away, and it seems like no one decorates anymore.”

Byron said his favorite part of the display is Pac Man. Dena said she liked the ferris wheel best.

“Sometimes we like to look out the window and listen to what people are saying,” Cathy admits. “Everyone gets so excited... a friend’s daughter started crying when she saw some of the decorations because they reminded her of her childhood. We know things are tough economically for so many, and by doing this, people get 10, 15 or 20 minutes of relief to take their mind off things, enjoy the lights and not worry.”

David and Cathy are already thinking ahead to next year, when they hope to add an electronic light show with even more lights and a wider variety of characters.

Last summer was spent attending garage sales, seeking Christmas decorations. This year will probably be more of the same.

“Lots of times, people would hear what I wanted them for and just give them to me,” David said.

They’ve also had people call them to donate various decorations. Rick Chandon gave them a sleigh and reindeer that used to be displayed on a Mount Shasta motel on Old McCloud Road in the  early 1940s.

David, a retired electrician,  and Quillen, the manager of Mt. Shasta Memorial Park, spent the summer months  refinishing decorations that had been damaged by water, rodents and time. David also repaired strands of lights that didn’t work. They’ve now collected 50,000 lights, Cathy said, 30,000 of which were up this year.

“We just enjoy it,” David said. “We haven’t gotten anything out of it but joy.”

Though they expect their electricity bill to be somewhere around $250 to $300 more than normal, they said they aren’t concerned.

“We expect it to be high, but we don’t care. We’ll get through it,” said David, who has started a separate bank account for the Christmas display. “People will drop a dollar in the can, and that’s fine.”

David and Cathy Athens’ front yard has been transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with 30,000 lights and vintage decorations that used to be displayed at the Mt. Shasta Memorial Park during the holidays.