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'For other people to enjoy'

December 10, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Phillip Gatrell isn't sure exactly how much his elaborate holiday lawn display is costing him in terms of electricity usage and, quite frankly, he doesn't care.

"I don't worry about that," Gatrell said. "It's mainly for the kids. I guess I'm still a big kid at heart."

This big kid, however, takes his project seriously. He has more than 30 inflatable decorations scattered in his lawn along Sharpsburg Pike as well as a few more traditional items.

Gatrell recently hired a local electric company to install 14 outlets around his home in which he plugs all of the 100 or so commercial-grade extension cords running to the decorations. Power is needed to illuminate and inflate the decorations, and several also have moving parts.

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Previously, he would run the cords out of windows.

"I was thinking safety first," Gatrell said.

An elaborate decorator for years, Gatrell, 43, drew part of his inspiration from an older man who lived on Virginia Avenue and who put up numerous decorations every year until recently.

Gatrell, though, almost quit once.

About four or five years ago, he walked outside one morning and noticed that vandals had stolen many of his decorations, including a display of the manger.

"I never even called the cops," Gatrell said. "It upset me so much, I went out and took everything down."

He then sold it all.

His pain was assuaged over the following months, and he decorated again the next holiday.

Gatrell switched to inflatable decorations two years ago, with his first one being a 12-foot Santa. He buys them before Christmas and afterward, when prices are dramatically reduced. His newest one was purchased recently and is a Santa figure sitting on a motorcycle.

With help from his sons, Travis, 18, and Donnie, 21, Gatrell began putting up the decorations the day after Thanksgiving.

Now finished, he said the decorations are inflated every day from about 3 to 9 p.m. He will leave them on all night on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and take them down on Jan. 2.

Stealing the inflatable decorations would be much more difficult because each is deeply anchored in the ground with several guy wires.

The only inflatable decoration he has not been able to find, despite checking in stores and on the Internet, is a manger scene.

"If it ever comes out, believe me, I'm gonna get it," Gatrell said.

During a recent visit, within a half an hour, at least half a dozen cars pulled over onto the road's wide shoulders to look at the decorations.

Gatrell said he has seen people taking photographs, and his wife saw someone filming the display with a video camera. One time, a woman asked Gatrell if he would come decorate her home, and others have spoken words of appreciation.

Sometimes, people get out of their cars and walk around the lawn for a closer look.

Amenable, Gatrell doesn't mind.

"That's what it's there for, for other people to enjoy," he said.

His 2-year-old granddaughter, Kaelyn, walks around the yard and kisses each of the decorations.

"She just loves them," said Gatrell's wife, Michelle. "When they're down during the day, she asks, 'What's wrong with them?' I say they're sleeping."

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