Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Palm Harbor couple goes for old-fashioned look in holiday decorations

PALM HARBOR — Save the newfangled, brightly lit, even motorized Christmas decorations for other places.

Sure, fancy displays light up the night at the two- and three-story homes in the waterfront neighborhood of Indian Bluff Island off Palm Harbor, home to doctors, lawyers and politicians.

However, there is also one place here for the old-fashioned and unpowered: a family of carolers made out of wood and recycled materials that greets visitors to the island and is best seen in the light of day.

The singers have wide-open mouths made out of discarded spoons. Some are draped in sweaters and coats, while others are zipped up in choir robes. Most are topped with stocking caps and ear muffs, and they are joined by several angels with white wings playing harps.

Someone added a guitar and a small piano to the display, both retrieved from the dump.

The family of carolers was created by a team of Santa's elves who call the island home. The lead elf was Grayce Merrell, who has lived with her husband, Harold, at their home on Augusta Avenue for 52 years.

The work is officially titled "Thanks for the Memories,'' and Merrell has more than a few island memories.

"When I first lived out here, there was nothing here,'' said Merrell, 80. "Before the new road was put in, if we'd go to the grocery store when it was raining, the street would flood. So we had a little boat up (at the main road) on a pulley, and we'd leave our car there and bring our groceries home on the boat. Then we'd push it back for others to use it, and we'd go back and get our car later.''

Because so many brightly lit nighttime holiday displays were already in place, Merrell thought the neighborhood "could use a display for daylight hours.''

She sent notes to the approximately 200 residents in July, asking for donations. "I told them that the rules were that we'd use no money and we wanted it to be all handmade,'' she said.

She describes the carolers as old, fat, tall, short, cracked and wrinkled. And at close observation, you might think you see an old fence post, or maybe a telephone pole beneath the costumes, she said.

Kathy Gruber, who has lived on the island for about 10 years, made sure to bring back ear muffs for the carolers when she visited Michigan in the fall.

"I've always enjoyed how Grayce decorates at Christmas," Gruber said. "I think there's beautiful displays throughout Palm Harbor, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Grayce's. She doesn't put stock in the expensive, and I can count on her to have old-fashioned stuff that comes from the 1950s on display.''

One peculiar challenge this year was "the scent some of the carolers had at first,'' said Merrell. "It was because most of the clothes had been in storage for years and smelled like mothballs.''

But after a few days outside, the carolers smelled clean and fresh, as their hair, made of ribbon and yarn, blew gently in the December breeze.

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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