Hawkins roadside Christmas tree decorator triples effort after Parkinson's diagnosis

Jeff Bobo • Dec 1, 2018 at 9:00 AM

CHURCH HILL — A Hawkins County man who has been decorating roadside Christmas trees for the past dozen years is tripling his efforts this year in case it’s his last.

About 12 years ago, Larry Williams and his daughter joined a lady, Carol Thompson, who was decorating trees for Christmas on the north end of Bradley Creek Road near the Carters Valley Road intersection.

It started as a fun project for him and his daughter, but when she grew out of it, Williams continued.

Usually he would do about 10 trees, but earlier this year Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

He’s experiencing some of the symptoms such as shaking hands, but that hasn’t discouraged him from making this year’s display his best ever.

As of Thursday, he was closing in on 30 trees, most of which have been decorated by him, although there have been a few friends stopping in to help here and there.

“I want to make it good this year in case I can’t get up there next year,” Williams told the Times News Thursday. “The lady who started this (Thompson) stopped a couple of days ago and asked if I’d gone crazy. She said, ‘When are you going to stop?’ Last year I maybe did 10, and they werent as bright and pretty as they are now.”

He added, “I actually enjoy doing it. It’s something that relieves stress. It puts a little stress on your legs.”

Most of his trees are the traditional spruces or pines, but he’s also got a few non-evergreens in the mix.

In most cases, the branches of the non-evergreens are completely wrapped in garland. One of them he calls his “Tree of Many Colors” after the famous Dolly Parton song.

Every year after Christmas, Williams hits the Christmas ornament sales. He secures the ornaments with strong pipe cleaners, and he hasn’t lost many over the years to high winds and rain.

He hoped that by Friday all 30 trees would have crosses and several would be lit with solar powered lights.

“Looks kind of spooky at night coming through with those lights,” he said. “It’s pretty, though.”

The architect of Bradley Creek Road’s Christmas tree display has been a mystery to most until now. One day the trees would be bare, and the next day they would be decorated.

But with this year’s effort being tripled, more people have seen Williams on the job, and more people have stopped to talk to him.

“There are so many people who have stopped and said, ‘So you’re the one who does this,’ ” Williams said. “ ‘We finally get to see who does it.’ Most of them just say how much they like it and enjoy coming by and seeing it. It puts them in a Christmas spirit.”

Williams added, “I think Christmas just makes you feel good. Everybody’s laughing because I got started in October. They’re saying Thanksgiving isn’t here yet and all this stuff, but Christmas is a happy time of the year for most people. If you can help make somebody smile or give them that extra little boost, it’s a good thing. The world is just too divided now anyway, so it’s a good thing.”

A man stopped about a week or two and was talking to Williams and his friend Sherry Bruce, who was helping decorate.

Bruce told the man, “We’ve got plenty of ornaments here if you want to help.”

The man replied, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll supply the land if you’ll supply the ornaments.”

“He said, ‘I own it,’ ” Williams said. “That was the first time I ever met him after 12 years. He’s such a nice guy. He said, ‘Do what you want to.’ I told him I’d been looking for him for 12 years. Nobody knew how to get in touch with him. He said, ‘If I didn’t want you on it, it would be posted.’ He said, ‘I enjoy it, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to catch you.’ ”

In May, Williams began growing his beard so he can play Santa Claus.

On Dec. 23 from 1-3 p.m. he’ll set up a roadside table in front of his trees and hand out candy to anyone who stops.

He hasn’t picked a day yet, but one day in December passing motorists will see Santa Claus on the side of Bradley Creek Road.

There are several evergreen saplings that will be a perfect size to decorate by next year, and Williams plans to do just that. 

But, with his diagnosis, he’s hoping the good Lord sees fit to give home at least one more year of decorating.

“You can live a semi-normal life with this (Parkinson’s disease), but it’s already starting to get harder to get up and down this hill,” he said. “But I really do enjoy it. I just think it’s cute. I’m a 60-year-old man gone crazy.”