School Buzz

Deck the Yard and Boughs on Holly

Cindy Gabriel
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Shari Greer, John Greer

Shari and John Greer of 5007 Holly Street take a moment to relax in their front yard. (Photo: Jud Haggard)

You might say John and Shari Greer are known for making a scene. It happens like clockwork the minute Thanksgiving weekend ends. Before you can say “Fa-la-la-la-la,” the lights turn on, and Christmas at 5007 Holly Street officially begins.  You see it as you are driving down S. Rice Avenue, south-bound toward Bellaire High School.  The traffic starts to slow as Holly Street approaches.  A quick turn to the left and you’re there…transported to a Christmas front yard extravaganza.  The scene is always different, but some things remain the same.

“It’s always for children, and it’s always cartoon-y,” says Shari, a former sales director for ABC Disney.

After winning six City of Bellaire first place trophies, the Greers quit entering the contest.  But they have never stopped delighting the public with fourteen consecutive years of Christmas lawn-cartooning.  There have been many memorable ones, but three particularly stand out.  The penguins playing ice hockey; 101 Dalmatians (that was the year they went “bonkers” with about 86 dogs in their yard); and an all time favorite: Santa crashing his sleigh into the roof with reindeer scattered helter-skelter in various poses, from completely airborne, cascading in mid-air, to smashed into the huge live oak that spans their yard.

While children react with awe and delight, adults are quietly taking stock of the time, imagination, and effort that goes into such an annual feat.

Who are these people?  John and Shari Greer are media types.  They met on the job.

“I was working for Traffic Central in sales.  John was this cute KPRC ‘Sky Spy’ guy, and we were both a little wacky,” said Shari.

John says Shari’s earlier years as a florist have been useful in imagining the artistic creations, while John’s SMU degree in theater arts has finally paid off.

“It’s the same as theater lighting.  It’s the only time in my life I’ve been able to use my degree,” said John.

The decorating has evolved much over the 14 years.

“I used to do a lot more with lighting.  But one year a friend of ours flew to Hobby airport and spotted our house from the air.  He said ‘You really could tone the lights down a bit,’ so we did,” said John. Their electric bill for the month of December runs about the same as their July bill.

The Greers say they actually start planning the next year as they are taking down the previous one.

“We do sometimes talk about taking a break for a year, but then we say ‘the neighbors will think something’s wrong. They’ll think we’re getting a divorce!’ ” said Shari.

“We fight the whole time we’re doing it anyway,” jokes John.

The Greers’ 14-year-old son, Joey, a St. Thomas Episcopal High School freshman, has been around the exact number of years that his parents have been providing Bellaire with this Yule treat.

“He’s getting pretty good at climbing and running cable. Thank goodness, because it isn’t getting any easier for us,” said Shari.

The scenes have definitely evolved over the years.  Once John decided to start using fewer lights (not wanting to interfere with incoming air traffic), Shari started getting more into planning the characters.

“The idea is to think of an animated scene and then try to make it as real looking as possible.  I love coloring books.  I get some of my best ideas from characters in coloring books, though the Santa wrecking and the reindeer flying was on a Christmas card.  Christmas cards are another great source,” said Shari.

The Greers started out doing the painted cut out boards, which they still do.  But over the years they have “graduated” to more 3 dimensional characters.

“For the penguins (playing ice hockey), I saw these big orange gloves at the Dollar Store.  I thought, now, the four fingers look like penguin feet.  So I cut off the thumbs and used them for the bills,” said Shari.

For the bodies, they found traffic cones at Home Depot.

The reindeer in the “wreck” scene started with 2 pair of panty hose packed with Styrofoam packing “popcorn” to create the legs.  The waist of the panty hose was secured around a pillow for the body with the legs dangling off each end.  A stuffed sock with an orange toe for the reindeer’s nose made the face.  The antlers were regular felt head pieces that people normally wear.

The Greers’ favorite places to shop for their yard accessories are Home Depot, the Dollar Store, Hancock’s Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and The Box Store (for the packing material).

“I go into Home Depot and just walk around and look at stuff.  When you see something that might work, you kind of close one eye and turn your head sideways ‘til you get the picture,” said Greer.

Other tricks of the trade include the following:

• Silver kitchen scouring pads work great for elves beards.

• For a snow effect on the lawn, start with white netting. Apply spray glue and shake white glitter flakes over white netting. Air and moisture can still get to the grass.  For hard surfaces, use bubble wrap underneath to help contour the snow effect, as was done this year around the bottom of the chimney (see cover).

• Glitter can really set off a cardboard cut out image lit by a floodlight.  But be sure to lay your image down flat before you start spraying and glittering or else it will run!

• Reuse old cut outs.  For example last year’s Santa can become this year’s Grinch by simply changing the face and painting the bottom half green.  Dogs, children and elves can all come from the same cut out.

• For serious lighting, add extra wattage.  The Greer’s have added four 20 amp breakers to cover their needs.

• Don’t shine a floodlight directly at your house.  It’ll look like a crime scene according to John.  Shine it skyward. (Don’t shine it at your neighbor’s house either.)

• You can create anything with a hot glue gun, a staple gun and wire.  Hot glue will withstand six weeks of winter weather outside.

• Florist putty is another must.  It will stick anything to anything.

If all this sounds like too much work, just go to 5007 Holly Street and enjoy all the hard work the Greers have put in.

“We know how well we’ve done by the line of traffic going up Rice,” said John.

The Greers say they’ve met many great people over the years who come to enjoy their yard.   They’ve received homemade Christmas cards from children expressing their appreciation, a tour bus once stopped and the passenger’s caroled the Greer’s, even impromptu parties have erupted in their front yard.

“I came home one day and found some clients of mine sitting in the sleigh in my front yard drinking wine!” said Shari

Vandalism, considering, has been kept to a minimum.

“We lost 2 penguins and one cut out over the year the years.  That’s it in 14 years,” said Shari.

“You couldn’t do this kind of thing just anywhere,” said John.

The Greers say if they did not live in a town like Bellaire with its alert police force and friendly, supportive neighbors, they would likely not be able to provide all this fun for us. Each night at midnight, John turns out the lights.  One night, a lone voice from the street yelled, “Don’t turn out the lights!”   Please don’t…ever.

Each year during the Christmas season, Santa stands in the Greers yard and rings a bell for the Leukemia Society.  Visitors throughout the years have contributed over $10,000.

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