Ahead it rises, an oasis in the twilight, a make-believe land of luminescence and inflatable friends: Easter bunny, Thanksgiving turkey, Mickey Mouse, jack-o-lantern and Jack Skellington, all bathed in white Christmas lights. To one side, palms are festooned in red, white and blue.
Signs of every holiday, and every day, that feel so suddenly gone now.
Except for here, in this oasis. Which is precisely why Mark Vahala created it — normalcy for kids who can barely pronounce coronavirus.
Normalcy for him, too.
The oasis' origin story goes back 25 years, to when his daughter was little and he began hanging lights for each holiday, a presentation that, he confesses, went a little haywire. His house and yard, now adorned each October in all manner of witch and ghost eccentricity, has become the epicenter of Halloween in Mount Pleasant’s kid-heavy Longpoint Plantation.
After Christmas, his front-yard display fell mostly dormant, until Vahala recently read a magazine article about people in other towns lugging their holiday decor back out to provide Christmas delight in pandemic springtime. He re-lit his own white icicles with a renewed sense of purpose.
But why stop there?
He recounts hauling out 12-foot Jack Skellington, freshly stitched up after a mishap last season, who rose back to skeletal life on a warm evening last week.
Vahala turns away to pull weeds.
“I’m not in it for the notoriety,” he added over a shoulder.
Yet he is among the minor heroes of this saga, composers of cheer when we’ve somehow become utterly harried while also hopelessly bored. In neighborhoods like this one, parents emerge from homes pushing strollers, pulling wagons, driving golf carts as stir-crazy children spring into the fresh air that we all need right now — only to find the ghosts of playdates past.
Instead, friends peer out from windows.
Oh, the windows, how you've saved us.
From Goose Creek to Daniel Island, neighbors have stuck teddy bears in windows by the thousands. In Nelliefield Plantation off Clements Ferry Road, some counted 100 bears perched behind glass in their neighborhood alone.
Among them, Natalie Caula Hauff and her son, Jonah, who made a whole day of teddy bears: a bear craft, a bear book, a hunt for bears in windows. Then, they plopped their own giant stuffed teddy in their golf cart and took off, strangely excited to search for friends from afar.
In places like Ladson’s Tall Pines and Hunters Bend, paper hearts taped to windows sent red crayon love to friends.
Around Harborview Elementary in James Island, rainbows appeared.
And it wasn't just windows. Yards, porches and sidewalks became messengers of hope.
In the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, a blow-up Santa boarded a pirate ship.
In Park West and Dunes West, teachers from Charles Pinckney Elementary rode in motorcades, waving to students who missed them, if not the homework.
And outside Harmony at West Ashley, a senior living community that lost a resident to coronavirus, neighbors' porches and balconies offered especially needed support in poster-board form.
One promised: We’re all in this together.