The Grist family will gather this Christmas in their long-time Barclay Downs home, adorned in matching pajamas, reading “The Polar Express” and missing someone who won’t be with them for the first time. But that doesn’t mean the family, or their neighbors, have forgotten him.
Barclay Downs residents came together recently for Larry Grist, who died this September after a long battle with ALS. Grist loved the annual Christmas decorations his wife put up, and so did their neighbors – which is why so many of them spent time over the last week creating their own special displays to honor his memory.
Larry and his wife, Jean Grist, moved to their Wickersham Road home 27 years ago and started a legacy that, whether they realized it at the time or not, had a huge effect on their neighbors.
“People kind of made fun of them for being like the Griswold family,” said Mary Ellen McElroy, who lives across the street from the Grist home. But comparisons between the Grists and the attempts of “Christmas Vacation” father Clark Griswald to have the greatest light display in all the land weren’t made to be rude – it was the opposite, actually, because the neighbors couldn’t imagine what life would be like to not have the Grists next door.
“I decorate for every holiday … and I always tend to go a little bit overboard,” Jean Grist said. And Christmas always stood out among the other holidays. “I would put a tree in every room, decorate every room, and Larry would always tell me … he loved it because he said we were making memories for our children that one day, when we’re gone, our children will take over the tradition.”
But as her husband’s condition worsened last year, Grist said she wasn’t going to put out as many decorations as usual. But Larry said, “Please put it back out, I just love it,” so his wife went on decorating as usual.
She also got some help from the community.
Neighbors turned out in droves last year to make displays for the Grist home and to place along the street. Though Larry couldn’t take part in the festivities as much as Jean would have liked, he still was able to enjoy the neighborhood camaraderie and see how much his community cared about him.
“I would drive him through the neighborhood last year and tell him, ‘All these lights, people did it just for you,’” Grist said. “He was fortunate enough to see the amount of love that was poured out to him.”
People can see that love for themselves by taking a drive down Wickersham one evening this month. McElroy and Janet Taylor led the charge in decorating the neighborhood again this year.
“I told Jean, I teared up when I saw the lights for the first time,” McElroy said. “They made me think of him and miss him and hope he sees it from heaven.”
“It’s spectacular when you ride through and see,” Grist added. “Everyone coming through with such love… that’s what Christmas is, getting together and sharing your love.
“Larry loved that, just the sense of family and being together. To see that love that has been poured out, you cannot put words on it.”
Wickersham is located off of Colony Road, just north of SouthPark Mall.