Chuck Greason has worked for 17 years to build an over-the-top… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
The sound of holiday standards seeping into the night, candy-cane sentries at the gate and strings of twinkling lights entice visitors down a certain wooded drive, helping them find what they couldn't possibly miss — the exuberant work of a man who doesn't just embrace Christmas, he throws his arms around it in the warmest of bear hugs.
While other folks go antiquing, collect stamps, hunt, run or bake, Chuck Greason does Christmas. He Christmas-izes or Christmas-ates — or whatever it is that one does when a holiday becomes not just a hobby but a reason to get up in the morning. And not just right now, when everyone is thinking about Christmas, but at least five months out of the year.
"This is it," the Parkton man says. "Christmas is my thing."
For the past 17 years, Greason has turned his home on a hill at 22 Kitzbuhel Road into a full-blown holiday experience, a place full of charm and kitsch where more most definitely means more. He has wrapped his house and everything around it with 50,000 lights, added more and then lost count. He's never even tried to count all of the lit and mechanical reindeer, snowmen, Santas, angels, penguins and presents that crowd the lawn.
There are dozens of deer, surely a herd — bobbing their heads here and nodding there, sipping from Greason's koi-filled water feature and prancing across the roof.
It's a place where children will never get into trouble for running around and touching things, and where parents might, just for a second, forget they're parents if they hop onto Greason's sky-high tree swing and set sail over the winking and blinking spectacle — a view usually reserved for Santa himself.
Robbin and Buddy Graybeal drove over from Jarrettsville one night this week, not expecting much. With their kids grown, they hadn't done much for the holidays this year and, frankly, weren't really in the mood.
Until they saw Greason's lights.
Buddy immediately called his sister and mother and told them they couldn't miss it, that they had to get into the car immediately. "Unbelievable" was the word he used.
"When you get older, you lose that excitement," he said. "But at our age, I guess we need to come to places like this and be our own kids."
What has become Greason's life's work began many years ago, when he was growing up in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood. Come Christmastime, while his neighbors' homes started to sparkle with colored lights strung across shrubs or more sedate white ones outlining the architecture, Greason's stayed plain. And for reasons he can't explain, it bothered him.
With money he saved running three paper routes, the 14-year-old Greason bought his first holiday decoration: a pair of brightly lit deer.
"My dad never really got into it," he says. "I did."
Mustachioed and 50, Greason now manages an auto repair shop. Though he's open and engaging, quick to welcome complete strangers to stroll his property, have some coffee and warm their hands at his fire pit, he doesn't have much to say about why he throws himself into this holiday or what it really means to him. "I never gave it much thought," he says with a good-natured shrug.
He does say he believes in "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Good luck, though, finding someone else doing anything like this.
Greason isn't an electrician, but he has learned enough, often the hard way. He says that when a light won't cooperate, "we have a little conversation."
After all that talking, Greason and those lights have gotten to know each other over the years. Who knows how many hours he's spent, his hands on every last one of them, positioning them, begging them to shine, conducting emergency surgeries and wire transplants?
Greason doesn't just plop a snowman here, an angel there. Although he's a bit sheepish to say it out loud, he considers himself an artist, mixed-media, if you will — wielding color, light and whimsy to create an interactive opus. Everything must work from every angle. Empty spots shall not be tolerated. If he's got to reposition the Santa with blinking lights 10 times, so be it.
Most weekends, he'll be outside with the lights after breakfast, staying there until the sun sinks — which is when he'll put on his headlamp hat and keep at it. He has proudly buried every last wire and cord, and he likes to point out that each individual bulb along the house stands upright, soldier-straight — as if it knows it's playing a very important role in his performance piece.
Six months ago, after being with her for years, Greason married Carol, a hairdresser. They merged families — four children ranging from 12 to 31 and one grandson, who's 6. The vows didn't exactly say so, but Carol knew she was marrying into the Christmas lifestyle, one where the holidays start in September.