They never planned to be one of the places islanders would put on their lists of holiday traditions. But that’s what’s happened.
And if you ask Charles Callaham and his wife, Dorothy, just how it came to be that they would decorate their house and yard for the Christmas holidays, and become a highlight on the island, they’ll say, “We wonder that, too,” said Charles.
“We just started decorating our house for our kids in the 1970s,” Dorothy said. “And every year we’d add something. Then came the blow-ups.”
The blow-ups are plastic inflated figures that stand up to 6 feet tall and include snowmen, Santa, Pluto and Mickey Mouse in the sleigh with Santa. They’ve had up to 20 of them, but not all of them are in working order. There are six circuits to send electricity to all the decorations. With the blow-ups, they are on timers and come to life at about 4:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. Each has its own motor.
The couple, who have lived all their life on Bainbridge Island, begin decorating their place for Christmas shortly after Halloween is over. There are the lights to be checked and strung. And the plywood cut-outs to place. Then there’s big wooden candy canes that lead up the driveway to their house. And, of course, the blow-ups.
If the weather cooperates, everything is in place and ready for the big reveal on Thanksgiving night.
Charles, who is 84 and spent his career with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department, still climbs up a ladder to put decorations on the roof of the house.
“Yesterday, my granddaughter called and said, ‘Don’t let Grandpa go up on the roof. I’ll come over and do that,’” Dorothy said. “She was worried about him. But he said he wouldn’t let her go up there because he was afraid she’d fall.”
They’ve never counted how many lights they put up.
“Way too many,” Charles joked. “Thousands and thousands.”
And they’ve never cared that the decorations add about $100 to their December electric bill.
“We’ve just always liked the holidays,” Dorothy said. “We’re big on the holidays.”
Because their property faces Highway 305, about a mile south of the Agate Pass Bridge, many commuters know of the light display.
Years ago, a commuter wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Bainbridge Review, complaining that drivers slow down to look at the lights and it added 20 minutes to her journey.
“She said she wished we’d wait until after rush hour to turn them on,” Dorothy said. “We figure traffic is bumper-to-bumper starting about 5 p.m. Why not give them something to look at?”
Throughout the years, they’ve had many people tell them how much they enjoy the lights and every year people ask them, “Are you going to put up the lights this year?”
Charles said one night a man came to the door to tell him how much he enjoyed the display.
“He shook my hand and when he pulled his hand away, there was a hundred dollar bill in my hand,” Charles said. “He slipped me the bill to help pay for the lights being on.”
As far as the neighbors go, they’ve never had any complaints.
“We’re all related,” Dorothy said. “My nephew lives in one house, my sister lives in another. They all know this is our thing. My nephew sometimes put lights out on my sister’s house, too.”
Originally, the 10-acre parcel belonged to her parents and she grew up there. Her parents offered each of their children two acres once they became adults. Dorothy and her sister took them up on it. But her two brothers headed to Seattle instead.
Charles and Dorothy, who just turned 78, played men’s, women’s and co-ed softball and baseball on Bainbridge since they were young. They gave that up just a couple of years ago.
“I think that’s why we’ve stayed healthy and active,” she said. Dorothy worked at Bainbridge High School as a cook for many years and has an extensive collection of Mickey Mouse items.
“Mickey and I have the same birthday,” she said. “I guess that’s why I started collecting him.”
And that’s why many of the holiday decorations include Micky and other Disney characters.
Although they haven’t decided for sure, this may be the last year for the lights.
“It’s just grown so big and takes a lot of work,” Charles said. “Every year, I say ‘This is the last year.’ But I think I mean it this year.