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An illuminating tradition

Mon., Dec. 6, 2004

He wasn’t a Christmas kind of guy. David Ross, by his own admission, wouldn’t even help his wife put up a Christmas tree.

His end of Keller Road in Spokane Valley was dark and getting darker by the year as neighbors either decided they were too old to shimmy up a ladder with strands of holiday lights, or just too busy to bother. Scott Honodel, who lived across the street and always strung a few bulbs along his eaves after Thanksgiving, announced he, too, was dreaming of a dark Christmas.

Now get ready, because here comes the dawn.

Spokane Valley looky-lous know that no neighborhood shines brighter than Keller Road, where more than 60,000 bulbs burn nightly on Honodel’s lawn alone. The neighborhood is so gonzo for Christmas that light displays on more than a half dozen homes are synchronized to turn on at 4:30 p.m.

The nightly illumination is quite a sight, with lights up and down the street coming on within seconds of each other and inflatable Christmas characters rising from the grass like ghosts from Christmases past. The street carries so many carloads of appreciative spectators it’s a wonder ruts haven’t formed from their studded snow tires.

“What’s nice is when people stop to say thank you,” said Scott Honodel.

Complete strangers have stopped at his door to show their appreciation. Thank-you cards are not uncommon for the display that raises each neighbor’s power bill $50 to $200 in the month of December.

The reason the display exists is because Honodel’s son, Darin, insisted on lights that Christmas 10 years ago when Scott Honodel decided it was too much trouble. Darin hung the lights along the eaves that year and then began drawing up bigger plans.

Darin Honodel, now 21, drafted a proposal for lining the neighborhood curbs with tall, Christmas candle lights. He drew up a proposal for the neighbors, designed arches to bridge his lights over the driveways along the road. He offered to build a set of candle-style lights for every homeowner provided they pay for the materials.

“I think probably if the neighbors hadn’t agreed to do it, I still would have done it,” Darin Honodel said. Everyone’s display is synchronized with his watch.

The younger Honodel, who now lives in Liberty Lake, went as far as renting a boom truck for five days a few years ago so he could decorate the six-story pine tree in his dad’s front yard. There are 15,000 lights in the tree, he said, and he plans to update the feature next year because new growth has left branch ends bare. He’s still adding to the display, with two full pallets of new lights from Wal-Mart to decorate a neighbor’s bushes. Honodel’s display is so big, it requires its own fuse box. Darin and Scott joke that planes use their display as a directional marker for reaching the airport. Their tree can be seen from several blocks away.

“Their electric bill is a hell of a lot bigger than mine,” said Ross, who has become the Honodels’ biggest helper since joining the light brigade five years ago.

This year, Ross is borrowing a Santa Claus suit from a friend so he can hand out candy canes to passers-by on Dec. 18. His neighbors, Billy and Etta Vanhoozer, are dressing as elves. The neighborhood that might have joined the dark side a few years ago is now determined to deliver a community gift.

“I think probably the coolest response we got from anybody was from an 8-year-old who drew a picture of the house in crayon,” said Darin Honodel, aware that the child who stuck the gift in the Honodels’ screen door was just a few years younger than he was when the lights first went up.

His father and neighbor stand behind him, a couple of humbugs cured by electricity.


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