12/24/08 — Memory lights -- a tribute to a not-so-little girl lost much too soon

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Memory lights -- a tribute to a not-so-little girl lost much too soon

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 24, 2008 1:46 PM

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More than 65,000 lights grace a lawn on April Lane -- but the Christmas display at the home of Jim Ballard and his wife, Barbara Hill, is about more than celebration. It's also about remembrance.

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Barbara Hill and Jim Ballard stand next to the 12-foot Christmas tree inside their home.

From the back seat of a slow-moving car, it looks like any other Christmas display -- even if it is a spectacular one.

There are thousands of lights, inflatable Santas and snowmen, reindeer and a polar bear -- even a train.

But for Barbara Hill, Christmas is about the dog anchored in the back yard of her April Lane home.

It was her daughter Jackie's favorite part of her annual creation.

So for the last four years, she has kept it in the holiday scene -- even if her little girl is no longer alive to see it.

"She was born on Christmas Eve," Barbara said, choking up. "She would always say, 'Mama, I'm the best Christmas present you ever got.'"

Maybe that is why the lights stay lit weeks -- sometimes months -- after Santa makes his rounds.

It's not that they are a pain to take down.

It's that they are a joy to leave up.

Even though Jackie lost her battle with ovarian cancer, her memory still shines every holiday season.


Barbara would tell you she was "born loving lights."

Her husband, Jim, doesn't doubt it -- not after 13 years of spending the month before Thanksgiving wiring more than 65,000 of them across the lawn, up the house and around the 100-plus trees gracing their property.

"Yeah, that's a slug of power out there," he said. "It costs about $4 an hour to keep them going."

But the scene outside is just the beginning.

Every room inside has its own Christmas tree -- and theme.

The guest bedroom houses Santa's train.

Nativity scenes stand in each bathroom.

A "Charlie Brown tree" is behind the desk in Jim's office.

"It's a little stick tree," Barbara said, laughing. "But everyone always tells us it's their favorite."

Wooden nutcrackers line the stairway.

Santa is everywhere -- and in dozen of forms.

Even the night lights have a wintry theme.

"It takes a lot of time, but it's Christmas," Barbara said. "We have just always loved Christmas."


Barbara knows her eyes lit up with the lights long before the birth of her daughter.

And she knows they will continue to bring her joy even now that Jackie is gone.

But when you talk to her about what the holiday means, you can tell she sees that little girl, her most precious Christmas gift.

She fights off tears as she looks over the lights one last time before heading back inside.

"Christmas is a time to celebrate. It's a time for joy," Barbara said. "And it's a time to remember."