The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Santa’s head elf out of harm’s way
FOR many of the 15 years that Aquia Harbour’s Rick Rice has turned his yard into a Christmas wonderland, he had an able helper for the chore.
It was his son, Brandon, who never grumbled as he spent several days helping put Santa and lights on the Rice family roof and oodles of figures in the yard.
So it was both a physical and emotional loss in 2008 when the father faced the prospect of decorating for the holidays without his right-hand man.
Just a year out of Brooke Point High School, young Brandon was deployed with his Marine unit to Iraq. “It was hard for many reasons that year and I think I dealt with it somewhat by doing more that year, making the decorations bigger, kind of in his honor,” said Rick Rice. “I sent him a video of it all so he wasn’t left out.”
The Christmas-loving Rice, who enjoys sharing his holiday spirit with others, found himself in the same situation the last two Christmases as Brandon was deployed on different tours to Afghanistan. Sure, younger brothers Christian (now 16) and little Ricky (now 9) stepped in to help. But it wasn’t the same with the head elf in harm’s way on the other side of the globe.
All of which made this year’s Christmas decorating even more special. The 23-year-old Brandon was once again at his dad’s side, putting up the lights, the rocking Santa, the merry-go-round and so much more at the family’s home at Aquia Harbour. “It felt right again,” said Rick Rice, who works in fundraising after a long stint with United Airlines. “It’s special having him back.”
Because the Rices’ display is so extensive and cheery, and to honor the military service of Brandon and so many others throughout our region, the family’s home at 1039 Portugal Drive is the winner of this year’s Grand Holiday Displays feature.
Rice said he started decorating some 15 years ago, partly because his interest was piqued by my annual list and the many brightly decorated houses on it.
“At first, it was just a few strings of lights and a figure or two in the yard,” he said, noting that the effort grew a bit when the family lived in the Vista Woods development in North Stafford County. “They would bring Santa around in a fire engine,” noted Rice, who added that St. Nick would stop at houses that were really decorated. “So we did things up a little more.”
Like so many other “list regulars,” the collection of lights, animated displays and decorations that now light the Rices’ nights grew gradually. “I shop clearance and go out the day after Christmas to pick up what I can,” said Rice. “I’ve got an entire shed behind the house where a lot of it is stored.”
And it is a lot. Rice is particularly fond of figures and displays that move, so his yard includes a merry-go-round, a Christmas carousel, a Ferris wheel, a cool 25-cent Rudolph ride, a big Santa in a lounge chair and light displays and characters that change colors. “I like things that move and catch your eye,” said Rice, who does a different layout every holiday, pulling the pieces out as soon as Halloween passes.
Wife Janet is glad to leave the Christmas display to Rick and the kids, though she isn’t thrilled that once the lights go on each evening, she can’t dry her hair. Despite an extra electrical service for the Christmas lights and figures, some are still connected to the power grid in the house, which means kicking on a hair dryer will trip a breaker.
Rice, who has amazing collections of carnival rides and die-cast cars inside the house, said he’s not sure how long he’ll keep doing the big displays.
“I can’t get up on the roof as easily as I used to,” the 48-year-old Rice notes, “which is just another reason I was glad to have Brandon back to help.”
The young Rice, who now helps train other Marines at Marine Corps Base Quantico and lives in the family home, said he doesn’t have the bug quite as bad as his father. “Though my fixations have rubbed off on him a bit,” the father said with a smile. “He can’t put things up without having them spaced and looking just right.”
The whole family is a great example of the way so many people in our region decorate their homes to give others joy.
Merry Christmas and thanks to the Rices and everyone else who helped make this year another great one for the Grand Holiday Displays list.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415