Blue Christmas lights have unique history

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 21, 2015

Susan Curlett’s Christmas lights may look simple to people driving by on Old Mocksville Road, but it’s their history that really makes them shine. The large-bulbed blue lights belonged to her grandfather.

Henry Rainey, Sr., a resident of Ellis Crossroads, was well-known for decking his house with blue lights every Christmas. Curlett says that every year her father, uncle and grandfather lined the house with the fat glass bulbs.

“It was a big ordeal,” she said. “It took days.”

But the end result is one of Curlett’s favorite memories.

“They outlined the whole house to what I thought as a little girl looked like a gingerbread house,” she said.

But it was her sister’s special privilege as the eldest grandchild to turn on the lights.

Locals of Ellis Crossroads looked forward to seeing those blue lights go up every year. Despite being young, Curlett remembers people pulling over and stopping to look at her grandfather’s house, or getting out of their cars to take photos.

“It was a big deal back then,” she said, “because everybody didn’t have lights back then and the blow-ups didn’t exist.”

And then one year, they stopped. Rainey died on Dec. 20, 1973 of a heart attack, and was buried on Christmas Eve. Curlett was four at the time. When her family took the lights down at the end of the season, they put them in a box and put them in storage.

“They were never put up again,” Curlett said.

Her grandfather’s distinctive blue lights, and his tradition, stayed in storage for 25 years.

But when Curlett was 30, her grandmother was going through boxes and stumbled across them. When her grandmother asked if anyone in the family would be interested in taking them, Curlett stepped in.

She says she only used the lights to decorate once, nearly twelve years ago. But in May, she married and moved to a house on Oak Drive — just down the road from her grandfather’s old house.

“We basically live in the same community.”

On Nov. 27, Curlett, along with her daughter, mother and sister, went Black Friday shopping. They stayed out late, and when they pulled onto Oak Drive, Curlett says they stopped the car and stared. The roof of her house was outlined in blue.

While she was gone, her new husband, Buzz, decked the roof. He’d heard about the “gingerbread house,” and decided to put up the lights, despite a back injury and Curlett urging him to rest. He didn’t expect the effect it would have on Curlett, her sister and her mother.

“He didn’t realize that it was that big a deal to us,” she said.

The display brought back vivid memories of childhood and family.

“I think we were all speechless for a while,” she said.

Sitting at home next to her Christmas tree, Curlett recalls that her grandfather was someone who spent a lot of time with his grandchildren, who made them eat oysters on Christmas Eve, and who teased her and told to try and step on her shadow. She didn’t know him long, but he left an impression — just like his unusual, blue lights left an impression in Salisbury.

Since they’ve decorated their house in blue, Buzz and Susan say that older neighbors have come up to them, saying that they remember those blue lights and they remember Rainey.

Curlett says that from now on, she plans to make her grandfather’s tradition her own, and put blue lights on her house every year.