And the winner is … a little house of Christmas cheer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 20, 2012

SALISBURY — By day, the house of Oliver and Wendle Pruett hardly draws a glance.

It’s a small, shotgun-type house in need of paint and maybe even a new roof. It has chain-link fences down both sides and a “Beware of Dog” sign out front.

But at night, the Pruetts’ home at 108 W. Harrison St. turns on like a light bulb and becomes a holiday attraction, maybe even a Christmas miracle.

In many ways, the house mimics Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. With a little love and lights, the little sprig becomes a Rockefeller Center fir.

Call it sheer craziness and sentimentality, but I dub the Christmas decorations at 108 W. Harrison St. as winner of the first (and last) “Yule Light Up My Life” contest.

Some disclaimers: I loved the other places I visited during this “competition” to find the best outside Christmas decorations in Rowan County.

I carry a fierce love for the lights of Randall and Edie Barger in Faith and Robert and Judy Peeler at 2335 Upper Palmer Road.

I’ll be forever intrigued by the virtual Santa on Yost Farm Road in Granite Quarry. I admire the work behind Carl Zachary’s elaborate display at 810 Power St., China Grove, and Daniel Peck’s 192 channels of Light-O-Rama at 302 Hickory Lane.

But there’s something about this little house on Harrison Street.

There are no snowman blowups bigger than the house. No homemade cutouts. No synchronized music or animation. No sleighs and reindeer. No rooftop Santas or angels.

Except for some stars in the windows, Oliver Pruett basically depends on lights, many of them blinking on and off. Every color appears to be represented, and though Oliver usually has a plan each year for how the house will look, the layout of lights seems gloriously haphazard.

“He enjoys it, let’s put it that way,” says Wendle Pruett, Oliver’s wife. “It’s his own little McAdenville.”

Pruett can tell you exactly how many lights he uses on the sides of his house, on the railings and fences, his two rose of Sharon bushes and on his utility building.

There were 15,547 lights this year, and he always tries to find more room for next Christmas.

“I don’t know where you’re going to put them,” Wendle protests.

But Oliver explains how he can expand onto two doghouses and his “lawn mower building.”

The Pruetts married as teenagers and will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve. They have three daughters and a son, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“They always wonder every year if I’m going to do it,” Oliver says. “Everyone else does, too.”

Back in 1976, the Pruetts bought their West Harrison Street house for $2,000. Oliver figures he has put an additional $10,000 of improvements into the place over the years. He particularly focused on the wiring and all the outside electric boxes he needed for his Christmas lights.

“It was a job,” he says.
As a younger man, Pruett worked in construction for 17 years. With the town of China Grove, he started on a garbage truck, then went to the maintenance garage and ended up mowing town-owned property.

But a severe back problem — Oliver holds up a pencil and describes how his spine curves to the right — disabled him in late 1986. Doctors told him surgery would not correct it.

The back issues have seriously affected his legs. He walks with a limp, dragging his left leg, on which he wears a brace. To demonstrate how he has no feeling in the lower portion of his right leg, Pruett rolls up his pant leg and pulls out a hair with no sign of discomfort.

Pruett says he once picked up a splinter, and because he didn’t feel it, the leg eventually became infected.

Oliver, 65, has faced numerous other health challenges. He had double-bypass surgery in 1992, a heart attack in 2005 and a bleeding ulcer in 2010. Meanwhile, Wendle has diabetes and high blood pressure. She also had knee replacement surgery Aug. 13 but reports her new knee is doing well.

“I kept moving,” she says. “I wasn’t going to let it freeze up.”

Despite the pain and mobility problems, Oliver Pruett puts up all of the Christmas lights himself.

The couple’s special-needs daughter, Patty, usually helps to hold the ladders for her father, but she was battling a sinus infection this year. So Wendle, still recovering from her knee surgery, steadied the ladder for Oliver at the front of the house and on one of the corners.

Pruett says he began putting up the lights the second week of October so they would be ready by Thanksgiving. “I start at the bottom and work up,” he explains.

He doesn’t know exactly what impact the lights have on his power bill because he’s on a plan with Duke Energy that gives him the same monthly payment all year.

With the flip of two switches inside, the lights come on at 5:30 p.m. and stay on until 9:30 p.m. They will come down, starting Jan. 2.

Oliver says he puts the lights up for everyone else to enjoy, and he always wishes he could do more.

“He’s just filled with God’s love,” Wendle says.

The little house lights up my life.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or