December 23, 2010

Christmas tradition lights up Pleasant Grove neighborhood

Rachel Brown
Dalton Daily Citizen

— Jack Brooker has always loved Christmas.

When he was a child, his father made a big deal out of Christmas. Now, with five children, 15 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and two more great-grandchildren on the way, he and his wife, Ann, are Christmas “hosts” to thousands of visitors who come to see their decked out home in Pleasant Grove each year.

“We started Labor Day,” Brooker explained of the thousands — or possibly hundreds of thousands — of lights he and his family place on their house, outbuildings and all around their yard every fall. “We just love Christmas, and I have been doing it for years.”

They estimate about 2,000 people have come through since Thanksgiving when they turned on the lights. The tradition has been ongoing for about 20 years at the home at 114 Broadacre Road NE, and it’s evolved greatly since then. The display runs from through New Year’s Eve.

Every light or fixture is on a timer so they all begin coming on at about 5:30 p.m. and are all off by about 10 p.m. A vehicle counter Brooker installed not only tracks the number of visitors to the house but also lights up a candelabra placed in the family’s living room so they know when someone pulls into the drive. At the same time, it signals holiday music to come over two loudspeakers reportedly heard as far away as on the opposite side of Cleveland Highway, and it triggers an electronic toy train to begin making its rounds on a circular track situated inside covered box.

On Friday alone, 167 vehicles came through. That night, the Brookers and some of their family members were handing out candy canes to passersby and greeting them as they ohh-ed and ahh-ed over the lighted penguins, turtles, Disney characters, churches, Christmas trees, helicopters, backhoes, tractors, Santa Clauses, ballplayers, reindeer, gingerbread boys and Merry Christmas signs. They buy many of their things in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. and at Lowe’s in Dalton on sale. The electricity bill, Brooker said, is costly, but worth it for the joy it brings to onlookers.

Sallie Thomas, one of the Brookers’ daughters, said the lights are her favorite Christmas tradition.

“I think it’s just a joy that it brings my dad, even though it’s work,” she said. “It’s another excuse for us to get together.”

The family gets together often, eating at the Brooker home on Sundays, gathering there on Christmas Day and, of course, helping put up Christmas lights and decorations. It’s fun, they said, but it’s also work. Jack Brooker builds and rigs up special electrical boxes so there are enough outlets for all the cords he has to plug in. Grandchildren Brooks and Drew Carter helped this year with some of the larger items.

“It takes about two or three people to put them up,” Brooks added.

Drew said the “end result when you get to see people come through and enjoy it” makes the effort worth it. Granddaughter Kelsey Kirk said she helps out with decorating the inside of the house — which is not open to the public — but enjoys the entire process and was part of the candy cane giveaway recently, too.

“Especially when you’re off at school, you don’t realize how much you miss (family),” said Kirk, a freshman at Shorter University. “I think my favorite tradition would have to be coming up here because at home Santa’s already come, and then you come up here and, it’s like a whole other round of Christmas.”

Family members said their family’s Christmas traditions started with Henry L. Brooker, Jack Brooker’s father. In Jack Brooker’s living room hangs a framed note written by his father at Christmas in 1951 when he was about 80. The note talks about the importance of Christmas and of living a Christian life.

“I tried not to live for myself alone but for others,” Brooker wrote. “I want you all to do the same, to remember our home was founded on Christianity and to be proud to keep it that way. I leave to every one of you the privilege of keeping our family together and loving each other and God.”

To get there:

From Dalton, head north on Glenwood Avenue. Continue on Cleveland Highway. After about six miles, turn right at Broadacre Road NE. The Brookers’ home is on the right.