Message to mom brightens La Center

Man removes annual holiday display that features 300,000 lights, brought joy to many

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

LA CENTER — Bryan Miller strung Christmas lights along almost every inch of his property — from trees several stories high to his front and side yards to his roof — all so his late mother could look down from above and see his house this holiday season.

When he was done, everyone who entered La Center could see his house, too.

Miller’s self-described “secondhand Christmas house” featured an estimated 300,000 lights, including the display’s centerpiece — a message to his dearly departed that said “(Heart) u mom” on his roof. He had a giant red heart in place of the word, with “u” and “mom” underneath.

On Christmas Day, Miller stood on his roof, still as a statue, wearing a Santa costume and standing behind a sleigh. When motorists passed his house, he waved. Seeing their surprised expressions made him laugh, he said.

“The most rewarding thing is when people come by and say ‘thank you,’” the 47-year-old father of four said.

Miller, a construction worker by trade, started putting up lights en masse in 2008. A friend gave him a large amount of lights, which he decided to put up in honor of his mother, Sharon Loomis, who died of a heart attack.

The process turned out to be therapeutic for Miller, who said he questioned why God took his mother when he still needed her.

“She hangs the lights with me,” he said. “That’s mommy time.”

Miller’s lights are a hodgepodge of ones he has purchased on sale and others donated to him by friends and strangers alike.

He starts putting them up in October. He is now in the midst of the three-week process of taking down the lights, most of which he stores in his attic.

His electricity bill shot up to $700 in December, but it was worth it, he said. He also risked his health.

Miller used a 40-foot ladder to hang lights at the top of several trees on his property. The altitude did not bother him, he said. At least one neighbor said she was fearful watching him “shimmy” up the trees.

Miller’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

He said he has received positive feedback from the community since he started expanding his Christmas presentation. He said he learned just how deeply it resonated this year after someone stole the video camcorder he used to tape the festivities.

A La Center woman left him a card and a new camcorder. She identified herself only as Linda in the card she left. Miller said he believed he had mentioned to the woman his camcorder had been stolen.

“I know I speak for many people in La Center that your efforts bring us great joy,” the woman wrote in her letter.

Her gesture and words touched Miller.

“I knew everybody liked the house but that one there … every once in a while, you get one that makes you say, ‘Wow, that’s why I do it,’” he said.

The feeling he gets from providing joy to others is “more addicting than any drug in this world,” he added.

Miller’s neighbor, Don Soehl, has lived in La Center for 74 years. His vision has faded and soon he fears he will be blind. Yet, he can still see the lights across the street.

Miller’s decorations were “the biggest in town,” he observed.

“I think they’re nice,” Soehl said. “He does put on a little too much, but whatever a guy wants.”

Miller’s lights also lifted the spirits of his next-door neighbor, Mikhaila Bennett.

“I’m kind of a Scrooge sometimes,” Bennett, 30, said. “What he did was really selfless. It really (got) me into Christmas.”

Miller not only brightened her mood but transformed the street. Motorists could see the lights from the bridge near the city’s entrance. Slow-moving cars were a common sight on East Dogwood Avenue last month, she said.

“This little, quiet road turned into the mainstream,” Bennett said. “It was really neat.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.