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Merritt: Father-daughter decorating duo ‘enjoy spreading smiles’ at Christmastime

Katie, Autumn and Steve Layton are shown. The Laytons get into the Christmas spirit by decorating their property in Westminster.
Katie, Autumn and Steve Layton are shown. The Laytons get into the Christmas spirit by decorating their property in Westminster. (Courtesy photo)

Sleigh bells and snowmen and snowflakes with spangles; pink pigs, and Santas and a penguin that dangles (from a tree). One hundred forty things tied to the ground; these are a few favorite things Steve Layton has found.

Last month, having taken our routine walk down Tahoma Farm Road in Westminster, my husband and I were startled by a huge display of Christmas decorations being wired by Layton as he worked in his back yard. We couldn’t help but smile, as we attempted to observe all of the merriment.

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Here was a guy I wanted to talk to — someone whose display emanates happiness and a keen sense of humor and who’s willing to spend an enormous amount of time and effort to promote that joy.

Spreading Christmas cheer throughout his backyard acre, Steve and his enthusiastic 12-year-old daughter, Autumn, have been in the holiday spirit since the middle of October. His wife, Donna, pitches in whenever needed; their other two daughters, Katie, 19, and Sarahbeth, 22, enjoy the display but are no longer involved as they used to be.

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“My dad has been doing this since I was 1-year-old,” said Katie. “I have a lot of memories and recall when the display was smaller. Then it grew. Dad would get us up early in the morning and I would work on the Christmas display with my big and little sisters.”

With one more daughter at home, Layton still has his priorities.

“My inspiration is spending time with my [youngest] daughter and seeing the joy on everyone’s faces,” Layton said.

With a detailed list written in her notebook, Autumn was eager to show the extensiveness of their annual project.

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On this 15th day of Christmas, their favorite things consist of 68 blow molds (hollow plastic decorations), 19 blowups with fans (inflatable decorations), 13 Christmas trees, and 25 wired animals. If there’s a partridge, it would never be discovered among all of the lighted objects — including 15 snowmen and 18 Santas — that seem to dot every inch of space on their sloping terrain.

The father-daughter work team estimates they’ve spent 80 hours throughout two weeks, beginning for Autumn at 8 a.m. each weekday before she attends classes at East Middle School and then continuing when she returns home in the afternoon. Her dad spends most of his hours on weekends when he isn’t working.

Distributing the decorations has never been a simple feat, but Autumn said it’s gotten easier. Like Santa and his sleigh full of toys, the twosome uses a trailer full of the outdoor decorations that’s attached to a riding mower. As the pair ride through their yard, they simply toss out each object along the way where the items are later positioned and staked — a much easier job then when they had previously hauled each item outside.

Autumn said she even dresses for her tasks by wearing Christmas themed jacket, scarf and boots when she is on the lawn arranging the display.

With a sensibility regarding the environment, Layton said he tries to stay as energy efficient as possible, putting in a meter in the yard to track the amperage which Autumn gauges. Also, they are increasing their use of LED lights.

It all started 18 years ago when Layton, an electrical engineer, decided to decorate his yard in California with two lighted reindeer to help spread the Christmas spirit in his neighborhood.

“The next year, I got a tree and it all took off from there,” said Layton who buys the decorations from several places that are listed in ads, including Craigslist.

Just recently, he and Autumn took a 500-mile ride to Stanhope, New Jersey, to buy 15 blow molds. Most of their purchases have been from the upper New Jersey-New York area, including Pennsylvania, because, Layton said, many of the decorations that he wants are located there.

“We filled the truck up — every nook and cranny,” he said.

In addition to the time spent shopping, erecting the objects, and taking them down, Layton makes several of the items including PVC lampposts and Christmas trees out of inverted tomato cages. With all of the time spent working on the backyard display, Layton and Autumn regret there was no time to decorate the front of their home where the family has lived for two years.

“Next year, we’ll do the whole house,” said Autumn with much Christmas fervor. “Maybe we could make a trail with candles leading to our house.”

More work. Still, it was obvious their efforts are worth it when they talked about the responses they’ve received from passersby, friends and neighbors.

“My friends are completely crazy about it,” Autumn said. “They really laugh at the penguin that we hung upside down from a tree. They think it’s so different and weird.”

The Laytons have observed some people visiting the display every evening and thank you notes have been left in their mailbox, one expressing appreciation with a $20 donation toward their display.

Depending upon the weather, the family hopes to keep the display up until the middle of January. Then, they admit, it’s not so much fun dismantling everything and storing the parts in an ample storage area. But there’s always more to look forward to, such as next year when they decorate the front of their house and use their recently purchased blow molds.

“We enjoy spreading smiles,” Layton said. “It’s infectious.”

I wish you, my readers, many smiles and blessings during this Christmas season and the coming new year.

Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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