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Decking the Halls

In honor of his favorite holiday, a Tupelo resident decorates early and in the extreme in his inherited home.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Though he possesses no pointy ears, Tupelo’s Chris Grimes likely has a bit of elf in his DNA. He’s quick to confess Christmas has long been his favorite holiday. If proof is necessary, just keep watch outside his yellow house on North Green Street starting in October each year.

To those who think that’s too early to deck the halls, Grimes blames it on the skeleton crew, a gathering of about eight skeletons that make a home on Grimes’ front porch and around his front yard in the weeks before Halloween.

“They are the ones who start doing yard work — raking leaves, mowing,” Grimes said, smiling sheepishly. “Then they start hanging lights in the trees outside. By the time Halloween is over, the skeletons have already decorated the outside for Christmas.

“And that’s how I get away with decorating early.”

The inside holiday decorations are another story. Grimes can’t blame (or credit) the skeleton crew, who, by the way, have their own Facebook page. Grimes is responsible for the nearly 30 decorated Christmas trees found inside his house.

“The house is wired to accommodate 70 trees,” he said. “But 70 won’t fit in here. This year, I’ll have between 20 and 25.”

In years past, in the house Grimes owns and lives in across the street from the one he’s restoring, he has decorated up to 37 trees. And he’s not talking tiny trees.

“I didn’t count anything under 5 feet tall,” he said.

Grimes grew up in Dorsey with a traditional tree. His mom purchased special ornaments each year that came to have sentimental value and stories to share about each. So, his penchant for plentiful trees was not passed down from his parents.

The house Grimes will call home when the restoration work is finished, hopefully in a few weeks, was built in 1870 as a three-story Victorian. But thanks to the Tupelo tornado of 1936, the house was left with only two stories.

“After the tornado, the exterior became Neo-Classical in style,” Grimes said. “I’m sure people get a little confused when they walk through the front doors and see the Victorian staircase.”

In 2010, Grimes needed a place to live after closing Stone Pile Antiques & Interiors on Main Street, where he also lived. He saw a listing that the pool house behind the yellow house, owned by David Baker, was for rent.

Grimes moved in, but he had yet to meet his new landlord face to face. Shortly after moving in, he received a 2 a.m. call from the hospital telling him his grandfather had suffered a heart attack and was asking for him. Grimes went to the hospital, walked into the room, then turned to walk back out.

“I told the nurse that the patient was not my grandfather, but my landlord,” Grimes said. “I never really learned why he asked for me and said I was his grandson.”

Still, after Baker’s heart surgery, Grimes helped out, becoming a caretaker and friend to Baker, who died in 2016, a month shy of turning 94. In the years before his death, around the Christmas of 2012, Grimes bought the house across the street so he could stay near.

“There was no furniture, but you can be sure there were Christmas trees,” he said.

After Baker’s death, Grimes learned Baker had left him his house, but only on the condition that Grimes would renovate. He has been working on the house since 2016 and can finally see an ending.

The first Christmas without Baker, Grimes decorated a tree in his memory with things that were special to Baker, like his sterling baby cup, his “Downton Abby” ornaments, his Christmas tie and his orange tennis shoes.

Most of Grimes’ trees are themed. There’s a tree decorated with all Waterford and Swarovski crystal; the trees in the entry are all vintage, from the ’50s and ’60s; there’s a tree that honors Mississippi State, and there’s one dedicated to all things Disney; in the breakfast room, there’s a Mardi Gras tree; in the dining room there are two 9-foot trees and one 12-footer that are decorated formally; and there are eight aluminum trees.

“I’m not quite sure where they’ll go,” said the human resource generalist with Diversicare. “But maybe on the screened porch.”

Part of the restoration of the home included electrical rewiring.

“When I had that done, I had it done specifically with Christmas in mind,” Grimes said. “There’s a breaker box just for the tree lights and plugs are in some really weird places. But it’s all for Christmas. In fact, the entire remodel was planned around Christmas.

“I now have a place for my Christmas village; there are plugs on both sides of mantels; floor registers were moved if they were where trees would be.”

Much has changed since Grimes’ first Christmas knowing Baker when there was one 3-foot tree in the house that sat on the piano. Baker had no Christmas decorations, Grimes said. Now, huge plastic tubs filled to the brims with collections of ornaments are scattered about the house.

And the trees? Grimes has bought only five himself. The rest have just shown up on his porch or were dropped off by friends.

“I guess people see me as a retirement home for Christmas trees,” he said.

Grimes hosts an open house the night of the Reed’s Tupelo Christmas Parade each year, in whatever house he’s living. This year, it will be in the house he’s worked for years to restore. And this year will be the first year since the COVID pandemic began to show off his holiday decorations.

When asked if he’s ever logged the hours spent each year on decorating, Grimes is quick to respond.

“Oh, no,” he said. “And I don’t even want to know. I just know I loved doing it, and I don’t see that ever changing.”

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