Mary and Raymond Benner Sr. of Westbrook are known for their seasonal eccentricities.

So none of their Austin Street neighbors seemed taken aback when Ray, 59, dug a trench in his front yard and laid nearly 400 feet of wire for items he intends to inflate this December.

Since then, Ray has kept a nightly ritual. At dusk he grabs a coffee, flips a switch and retreats to a recliner by his front picture window. From that vantage point, Ray can better view the constant procession of vehicles passing by his home that stop to view the spectacle on his front lawn.

For the third year running, the Benners have erected a collection of giant inflatable holiday lawn ornaments in their front yard.

By day, the colorful assemblage of 20 or more nylon characters look like parachutes scattered about the lawn. But each night from November through New Year’s Day they come to life via motor-driven forced air and interior lighting that transform them into five to seven foot likenesses of Rudolph, a Nativity scene, snowmen and carousels in giant snow globes, a train, elves and various incarnations of Santa Claus — one of him in a bake shop, one sitting atop a motor cycle, another laying in bed and, this year’s newest addition, a Santa who pops out of a camper.

The display is the Benners’ seasonal Christmas card for the community to enjoy. And with each passing year, the collection keeps growing — as do the crowds that gather to see it.

“(Mary) will come home from shopping and say, ‘Well … I just bought another one,’” said Ray. “We keep them stored in an 8-by-12-foot shed out back that was set up for all her Christmas things. It’s already full.”

Mary admits the collection may have gotten a little out of hand.

“The older I get, the worse I get,” said Mary. “I add to the collection every year and sometimes I have to replace them when the motors on them go. That can be expensive but our own children are grown and our grandchild live away, so it gives us joy to see the smiles it brings to the faces of little children who come by to see it.”

Completing the display are illuminated candy canes lining the driveway and colored lights trimming the trees and the little ranch-style home on the property.

Which is why Ray, (aka, “the setup guy”) installed the underground wiring system, featuring insulated and enclosed electrical outlets and an upgraded electricity panel for the needed extra power. Previously, Ray spent a lot of time running extension cords about the property and replacing blown fuses.

Ray estimates his electric bill is about $400 each December for the colorful winter scene but said he doesn’t mind.

“We really like seeing the people stop by and the kids smiling and waving when they see (the display),” said Ray. “That’s how we get our enjoyment.”

Mary spoke of the wonder she always felt at Christmas time as a child and the corners her parents cut to afford gifts for she and her siblings.

“My mother used to go to the Salvation Army and secondhand stores to buy us toys that she would fix up to look new so that we could have a nice Christmas,” said Mary. “Now that I’m older and have a little extra money, I like to do this for the children.”

This year, Mary intends to make the colorful holiday attraction a bit more personal. From 5 to 8 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday the Benners welcome children for a visit with Santa (portrayed by Ray Benner Jr.) and some free candy canes.

“We’re telling parents to bring their cameras for that,” said Mary. ” But first I need to get an oversized chair for Santa to sit in to have those picture taken. And (she pauses, giggling)… I’m so bad … I also want to drop by Lowe’s. I found another inflatable Santa scene that I want to buy.”

Imagine that!


Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

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