She powers so many lights that she has an electrician install an additional 200-amp electrical panel to handle the load. And let’s not even discuss the utility bill that can be two to three times higher than any other month.
But for Simmons, it’s all just part of her normal Christmas.
“It’s worth it. It’s my thing. I can’t not do it,” she shrugs, picking at the hot glue remnants on her jeans. “Although, I do have to start earlier and earlier each year.”
When she is not pet-sitting, Simmons whips out her glue gun and begins attaching hundreds of light strands onto her roof as early as Nov. 1. She labors daily, sometimes for two hours and sometimes 10. It is practically an obsession.
“I have to try not to do something,” she said.
She has to fill in the graves in her front yard, first, though. Her other décor extravaganza appears at Halloween, when all manner of weird and macabre displays, including live actors, fill her property. After her gravediggers have filled in the holes and lubricated themselves with whiskey, out come the plastic Santas and a slew of hand-made “lighty uppy stars.”
If Martha Stewart is the Mercedes Benz of hand-made crafts, then Simmons is the Triumph Spitfire of do-it-yourself yard décor. Her creativity and industry are limited only by time and what she can find lying around. Her yard and house are TXU-Meets-Recycling.
Check out the runway of assorted bottles filled with light strands. Her Lighty Uppy Stars are old cardboard filled with lights and covered with colored cellophane wrapping paper. But her favorite yard art is the Bumble – a Paper Mache abominable snowman who posed as a bear in its former life.
Sometimes friends and strangers give her their finds or cast-offs.
“Yeah,” she says, fiddling with the neon pink hair that peeks out from her bear hat. “People bring me stuff. One time I got a thousand C-9 bulbs – a whole case! Crazy!”
Other folks help with set up, like Dr. Lavender, the vet who built her framework on the roof to hold Santa and the reindeer, and her buddy, Sprig, who assists with displays.
With this many lights and decorations, one could assume Simmons lives in a huge mansion. In fact, her casa luminaria is a modest little home tucked into a block of the Hollywood Santa Monica neighborhood just south of Lakewood Country Club. You won’t see her home on a carriage ride tour. It’s not on a street well-known for dressing up at Christmas. But if you purpose to see it, you just can’t miss it.
Simmons did not grow up with an emphasis on Christmas lights, but she developed the interest when she lived nearby in a four-plex on Prospect Avenue. “I don’t know where this whole light thing came from,” she said. “I just get an idea and try to make it work.”
Her display on Prospect grew to 4,000 lights before she moved to Newell nine years ago. They figured strongly in her choice of homes. “It was the roof – had to be flat enough for me to oonch around on,” she explained.
Even though she continues to re-vamp and repair her collection, there are some things she just doesn’t have yet. Like rats, for instance.
“I think I’d like a taxidermied rat diorama. That’d be cool,” she mused.
“We could have Santa as a rat with little rat reindeer and rats dressed up as elves. A mommy and daddy rat sitting by a fire with a plate of milk and cookies for Santa rat… ”
Rodents and a Bumble, yes, but don’t look for any religious symbols amid the cacophony of the blinking, sparkling riot.
“Nope. It’s only about Santa and snowmen and such,” she said.
Simmons officially declares the project “finished” by the time the neighborhood block party kicks off. Then the rest of the zaniness launches with The Elf Posse.
She and her neighbors dress as elves with names like “Oink,” “Tinkles,” “Sprinkles” and “Ho Ho” to execute their “elfin duties.”
As if Halloween and Christmas weren’t enough, Simmons also orchestrates a wacky Easter parade, egg hunt and party for the street. She serves on the Newellian Bunny Board and – you guessed it – dresses in a bunny costume. What does she do for July 4? Nothing, really.
“I like blowing stuff up, and that doesn’t go over too well, so… no.”
If you’re keen on adding her home to your light-watching list, look for it at 714 Newell.