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Candy Cane Lane neighbors bring back spirit of Christmas

Left to right, Jim Phillip, his daughter Emily, 12, wife Sandy and neighbor Kathy Brooks. (Colin Mulvany)
Left to right, Jim Phillip, his daughter Emily, 12, wife Sandy and neighbor Kathy Brooks. (Colin Mulvany)

When Jim and Sandy Phillip moved into their home on South Tekoa Street several years ago, they found a strange note taped inside a bathroom cupboard.

“Candy Cane Instructions,” read the small, typewritten message.

It proceeded to detail the proper distance from the curb for said candy canes; the right size of stove pipes and joints needed; the price of materials at a hardware store on Sprague; and the time and date on which the candy canes should be illuminated: 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 11.

It was the operating manual for Candy Cane Lane. The Phillips were being given their orders.

“When you move in here, the candy canes are part of the house,” Sandy said.

This had been a way of life on Tekoa, between 37th and 40th avenues, for decades. Most homeowners put up their matching candy-cane decorations – fashioned from painted stovepipes and lit with flood lights – and people came from all over town during the holidays for a glimpse of Candy Cane Lane and neighboring Christmas Tree Lane, otherwise known as Skyview Drive. It’s one of our holiday pastimes here in Spokane: Some of us decorate elaborately and some of us drive by and look. Candy Cane Lane made it onto a lot of holiday drive-by itineraries.

“There used to be school buses that would come up here at night, full of people” on light tours, said Kathy Brooks, who’s lived on Tekoa since the 1980s. “The next thing you know, there’d be another bus. … We’d have bumper-to-bumper cars down the street.”

Then, two years ago, vandals wrecked most of the neighborhood’s candy canes, bashing in almost all of them and destroying some of the neighbors’ will to decorate.

“It really broke our spirit,” said Sandy Phillip. “So the next year was like … I don’t know.”

Last year, there was no Candy Cane Lane. That didn’t sit all that well with the Phillips or their 12-year-old daughter, Emily, or Brooks, or several of their other neighbors, either. And so the candy canes will be back this year, with some minor differences, but in the spirit and style of the old stovepipe creations.

With any luck, the drive-bys will return, too. It seems pretty likely that at least one couple will take a look: Annette and Ben Brooks.

Nearly 50 years ago, the Brookses – who are not related to Kathy Brooks – were the catalyst for the original neighborhood project. Annette and Ben had young children, as did many people in the neighborhood, and they liked the idea of doing something festive for Christmas like other small neighborhoods did – shared themes ranging from Christmas trees to candles helped light up a street.

Annette decided to hit up some of her neighbors. “They liked it, and so we came up with the idea to do candy canes,” she said.

Ben and a neighbor designed the candy canes, using 8-inch stovepipe painted white. Another neighbor who owned a flower store helped them get the ribbons right. People from up and down the street pitched in, and that first Christmas – in the mid-1960s – almost everyone on the street participated.

And then they did it again and again. Year after year.

Some 30 years later, Jim and Sandy Phillip were a newlywed couple in Spokane. Sandy had grown up here, and one of her family’s traditions was the holiday lights drive-by.

“She says, ‘Oh, I want to take you by Candy Cane and Christmas Tree Lane,’ ” Jim Phillip said. “So we drove by these streets 17 years ago. I thought it was pretty neat.”

A decade after that, the Phillips moved in and found the note. They dutifully put up their candy cane every year until it was beaten down by vandals. And then, this year, they helped organize the effort to bring back Candy Cane Lane.

This year’s project had many aspects in common with the original one. Perhaps chief among them was the infusion of more children into the neighborhood in recent years, prompted by some turnover among homeowners, Jim Phillip said.

“The neighborhood’s been kind of reinvigorated with kids,” he said. “So it’s nothing to see kids outside playing, even in the snow.”

Jim designed a prototype out of plywood, and others got involved in producing the candy canes for distribution to 17 neighbors along Tekoa. In October, they had a neighborhood work day with everyone pitching in, which sounds a lot like a scene from the 1960s Annette Brooks described.

So the tradition continues. It is – in the context of a region with more than 600,000 people – a small thing, but a good one. It is one of many small, good things that add up to make this time of year a little nicer, a little warmer: a shared bit of light we can gather around or simply drive by.

It begins next Sunday, Dec. 4.

“4:30 p.m.,” Sandy Phillip said. “In the tradition of Candy Cane Lane.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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