Brothers’ project now glows for community

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published November 25, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 23, 2012 at 8:59 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

The Lee family of Malvern, front, from the left, Morgan, Megan and mother Tonya; and father Thomas, rear, walk through the bamboo Christmas trees built by the Burns brothers in Malvern. Malvern and Hot Spring County residents, along with visitors from around the country, visit the brothers’ family home to enjoy the holiday lights.

— For the Lee family in Malvern, visiting the backyard of the Burns family home on West Moline Street is a holiday

tradition.

“We have been coming to see the lights for as long as I can remember,” said Morgan Lee, 13, as she walked with her sister Megan and her parents, Thomas and Tonya Lee, through a forest of lights just after dark.

The family was working through what David and Dale Burns call the Enchanted Forest. Hundreds of Christmas lights are strung in the limbs of a few crape myrtle trees, but the two brothers build their forest every year.

“We start working on it four hours a day about six weeks before Thanksgiving,” Dale said. “We take three bamboo poles and stand them up in a triangle and wrap them with lights. They are not much to look at in the daytime, but at night, they’re impressive.”

It is especially impressive that the brothers set up more than 1,200 of the lighted “trees” behind their family home.

“We have trees with red lights in front, next to the house, then gold ones behind in the center of that round path and multicolored lights behind that and across the back,” David said before leading the Lees on a tour of the brothers’ forest. “On the way back, you will see some multicolored and some green, some red and some clear.”

David said the red ones are his favorite, but it is hard to get so many strands of mini-lights in one color.

“We usually try to get them on sale after Christmas when things are 75 percent off,” he said. “I got them once for 10 cents a piece. I asked the manager if that price was right. He said it was a mistake, but he sold me all I wanted for a dime a strand.”

In the post-Christmas sales last year, the brothers averaged 68 cents a strand. Dale said they quit counting the strands of lights long ago, and this year they stopped counting the trees they built after they reached 1,200.

While many people like to walk through the lighted trees as the colors and perspectives change, David said, some visitors like to just drive through, so the brothers have made paths for the vehicles that make their way through the lights and back to the street.

“We usually put up some arrows to keep folks going in the right direction,” he said.

Megan Lee, 9, said her mother tells her she has visited the Burnses’ lights every year of her life, and David said that was about right.

“We start about 12 years ago, when our mother was ill,” David said. “We put up a few so that she could see them from the window.”

From there, the project grew, Dale said.

“It was entirely for her,” he said. “We put up a few and then keep adding to it.”

David said they started with 28 trees, but that number grew to 75 by the end of the season. Their mother died about eight years ago, but the tradition continued.

“The next Christmas, it was 150, and then more every year until we hit 1,000, and I thought we had stopped,” David said. “This year, we just kept going, and it was 1,200.”

The brothers are not done yet. David showed the Lees where he and his brother are building a 50-foot tree from long bamboo logs that are grown nearby.

“I figure it is about 50 feet. The concrete pad it is on is 48 feet long, and it sticks out at both ends,” he said.

It will take thousands of lights to wrap the tree that is being assembled and decorated while on its side before it is raised and powered up.

Dale said it takes a lot of power to run the lights, along with special circuits that are on a separate electric bill.

Dale said Entergy ran a special power line with 38 circuits and its own transformer to the brothers’ family home.

“We get two bills, in December and January. They are about $300 each, and we split the bills, so it’s about $300 a piece for the year.

The brothers are pretty handy when it comes to building things. David is retired from working with computers for the city of Little Rock, and Dale is retired from the Air Force and also worked for years at the armory in Pine Bluff. Both work nights at the Walmart Supercenter in Malvern.

Like with so many Christmas lights, if a single bulb goes out, the entire strand goes dark. Dale said they replace the entire strand. Both brothers said it is impossible to take the time to find the one faulty bulb.

Over the years, they have found some unexpected things about the lights. First, they have to turn the lights out if a rain gets heavier than the lightest shower.

“Once there is water on the ground, things could short out,” David said.

Then there is the mystery of the rabbits and the green lights.

“The rabbits chew the wires of the green lights,” Dale said. “They left the other colors alone, but they will bite through the wires going to green lights, even on a multicolored strand.”

The rabbits are a minor inconvenience, but Dale said the brothers want to make sure deer stay out of the Enchanted Forest.

“One came in and got confused, I guess,” he said. “The deer got tangled in some lights and knocked down several trees and dragged the lights across the street and into the creek.”

The brothers charge nothing for visitors to go through their yard, but during the tour, they said, they will eagerly accept donations of unwanted, working Christmas lights.

They said they would never ask for donations. They just keep the trees going to share the Christmas spirit with their neighbors, and to recreate the warm, beautiful glow they made for their mother.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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