Live Oak —
By Jeffry Boatright, special to the Democrat
During early September while most people plan for Labor Day barbecues and late summer vacations, one Suwannee County couple begins decorating their home for Christmas. It is not difficult to find someone who might exclaim that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but few embark on nearly six months of putting out, displaying, and taking down Christmas decorations. Ken and Darthy Smith, however, are an exception to the rule.
Each year, the Smiths transform their 144th Street homestead into a winter wonderland that is speckled with Santa Clauses, snowmen, stuffed animals and Nativity scenes. With sincere warmth and genuine hospitality, Darthy explains that she and Ken truly enjoy the spirit of Christmas, but they especially enjoy sharing the joyous season with others.
“It is for the people from the Advent Christian Village that we do all of this,” Darthy explained. “It is for anyone else who appreciates it,” she added.
With pleasant smiles, Darthy and Ken explain how much their annual visitors from the ACV enjoy the short journey to take in the lights, Christmas trees, animated figures and an abundance of food that never fails to please.
Darthy’s reputation for preparing delicious food and treats precedes her and she successfully defends that reputation each year when residents from the ACV’s Dacier Manor arrive by bus and join the Smiths for an enchanted evening of Christmas cheer. In addition to Darthy’s mouthwatering chili and endless desserts, a birthday cake is provided, compliments of Dairy Queen of Live Oak. The cake simply says, “Happy Birthday Jesus.”
According to the Smiths, they have been hosting residents from the ACV for 14 years. Most of their guests from the Village are repeat visitors.
“One resident has attended 10 of the 14 years that we have been doing this,” Darthy stated.
The small bus from the ACV made its annual stop at the Smiths’ home on the evening of Dec. 9, with 14 residents and five helpers from Dacier Manor onboard. In addition to those in attendance from the ACV, a few other friends were available to lend a helping hand to Darthy and Ken. With the aroma of Darthy’s scrumptious food, laugher, conversation and genuine Christmas cheer filling the air, the magic of Christmas once again filled those in attendance with joy, which in turn, delighted their humble hosts.
Of course, the food and company was enjoyed by everyone, but the extensive decoration and work that has been put into the interior and exterior of the Smiths’ home is a highlight that cannot be overlooked.
Transforming into a Christmas village
While there is decorations galore inside the Smith home, the outside provides abundant lights, animated reindeer, and six outdoor buildings that serve as a sanctuary for countless Santa Clauses, angels, snowmen and Nativity scenes. Ken has built a few of the buildings on wheels to simplify placing them each year when the decorating begins.
A couple of small storage sheds in the outside display would certainly qualify for miniature Christmas cottages. Once the season is over, the small buildings are transformed back into storage units for the massive collection of Christmas trinkets, lights, and greenery.
Ken is not at all reluctant to admit how much he enjoys contributing to the cause. Because Darthy, his wife of 24 years, finds so much joy in transforming their place into something that might resemble a Christmas village or even the North Pole, Ken finds delight in the annual project. It is not difficult to realize how much Ken enjoys helping Darthy, but one can readily see that he finds much joy in making dim lights shine or broken ornaments whole again. It is simply part of who he is.
With affection, Darthy acknowledges that Ken’s expertise makes it all possible. Ken, who is retired from the construction industry, can usually identify the source of an electrical or mechanical problem. With an instinct for mending and restoration, he steadily works and refurbishes faulty ornaments and lights to give them new life.
When asked if the amount of their decoration has increased over the years, Darthy confirmed that it has.
“It has grown because different people have contributed different items,” Darthy said.
Strolling through their home, Darthy spontaneously points out different ornaments, some store bought and others handmade. She recalls where they came from, who made them, or how long she has had them. There is often a heartfelt story that goes with the ornaments and it is evident that Darthy, a native of Suwannee County, cherishes the memories and values the friendship of those who have contributed to her extensive décor.
When asked if any of the items that she proudly displays each season have special meaning, she pointed to a jolly, animated figurine that resembles Santa Claus.
“He reminds me of my Grandfather Davis,” she cheerfully admitted.
With the touch of a button, the jolly old guy bellowed out Feliz Navidad.
The Smiths’ home and the grounds that surround it appear to radiate Christmas magic, but Ken and Darthy readily admit there is no magical transformation that takes place overnight each year. The work begins in early September while the summer heat lingers.
“It is usually done by Thanksgiving,” Darthy explained. “But this year it was the first week in December before it was completed.”
According to Ken, the weather didn’t cooperate much this year and the finished product was unveiled and lit up a few days later than usual.
Since the vast amount of decoration does not fall into place overnight, it obviously does not come down very quickly either. Darthy admits that she is sad when the time comes to take all the cheerful trinkets down and store them away in the outside storage buildings each year.
Back to normal
Restoring their place to normal is a task that Darthy and Ken undertake one room and one building at a time. According to Darthy, it was almost March before all the decorations came down after last year’s Christmas season.
“We wanted those who had not seen it to have the opportunity to do so,” she emphasized.
Darthy and Ken report that a number of people do go by their 144th Street home each year, which is located just west of 209th Road, to take in the magic of Christmas.
The couple, who attend Friendship Baptist Church, is quick to profess that Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and sharing their love and abilities with others. One might sense that Darthy and Ken feel a little sad when the time comes to store all the Christmas decoration away for spring and summer, but anyone can recognize that the Christmas spirit within them is impossible to store away. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.