Nine years ago, almost to the day, a story I wrote was published in the Payson Roundup about my grandfather, Ted Spinney. The reading of this story has become a holiday tradition in our family and this year it’s come time for a new chapter.
If you have driven around Payson during the holidays looking at light displays, it is likely you have driven by my grandparents’ house on Chatham Drive. They are perennial winners of the Payson “Holiday Lighting Display Contest” and have placed every year since their arrival in 2006.
Every July, they scour the retail stores for discounted lights, inflatables, and signs. Every October, my now 81-year-old grandfather starts to put up his light display. He is often seen smiling and waving as the neighbors drive by and shout encouragement or to yell at him to stay off the ladder.
My last story highlighted that the lights were a sign of the profound change in Ted from a single, grumpy old man who spent the holidays alone, to the man he became when he met my grandmother. Those tough layers gradually melted away to reveal a kind, jovial, and giving man.
After much thought, my grandfather reluctantly announced to the family that this would be the last year he would put up the lights. As many of us know, time yields for not a single one of us, and his body was no longer able to handle the stress of such an elaborate display.
I could hear his disappointment. Very quickly, I realized it was because a large sense of his purpose was wrapped up in the lights. I started to think about the last 12 years and the interactions that I would witness him having with neighbors, children, and my grandmother around the lights. That’s when I realized he did not put up the lights for himself, he did it to make other people happy. He reveled in seeing the smiles of others, and the sense of wonderment in their eyes. His own sense of joy grew exponentially as he found he could affect his neighbors’ lives in a positive way by his hard work and creativity.
I was 21 years old when I wrote my first story about my grandfather. I am 30 years old now, it took the 30-year-old me to realize how very rare that is in our world. To give something of yourself to the benefit of others is truly magnificent. He has done that for the people of Payson in his own small and unique way.
My grandmother asked me to write a “goodbye” letter to the town, thanking them for their support over the years. But this is not a goodbye letter, it’s the ending of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. In a sense, my grandfather has passed a torch to me, not to put up lights like he has, but to treat people as he has. That requires me to use my gifts to make people happy every day.
Those lights mean something different to each of us. For me, they taught the power of giving and the transformative power of selflessness.
Thank you, Payson.
Thank you for loving my grandparents as much as they love you, for encouraging them and for making them feel that their contributions to the town mattered.