Cheer in return

Who said social media is ruining personal relationships?

In Newton, something as simple as a Facebook photo prompted a random act of giving, all in the spirit of holiday cheer.

The story starts at a little house on West “D” Street.

Each holiday season, Ronnie and Mary Connor transform their home into a Christmas showcase. Filled with inflatable Santas, a candy cane walkway and red, green and white lights, their one-story house sticks out as drivers make their way toward U.S. 321 or N.C. 16.

Blown-up caricatures of Santa’s sleigh, Christmas penguins, trains, snow globes and snowmen fill the front yard, and snow-flake lights illuminate the home.

Kathy Newton, of Newton, took special interest in the house two weeks ago. Driving by the home on an evening cruise around the city, Newton parked her car, got out and snapped a photo of the lit-up house.

Later that night, she posted the picture on Facebook, to a recently created page entitled “I grew up in Newton-Conover.” In minutes, former and current Newton residents started a comment thread that would go on for days.

“I love this,” one commenter posted.

“Mother would have loved it. Remember when we would go look at all the Christmas decorations at night,” wrote another.

Newton, who is one of 324 members of the online group, said the house really drew interest from current residents and those who have moved away.

“I took a picture of what we started calling the ‘Festive House,’ ” she said. “We started making comments about it. These people always decorate for any season, and these folks really must have a good heart to decorate their home and start sharing this with our community every year.”

The cheerful comments continued for a couple of days until Bob Marlowe, an area resident, recommended the group give the Connors a Christmas gift.
 “I rode by there this afternoon and they now have a helicopter with a Santa in it on the roof of the carport,” Marlowe said. “I love it. (We should) give these folks a Christmas gift this year.”

Group members loved the idea and started scheming about how they could help the family.

After doing some research, group members learned that despite the Connors' year-round holiday displays, the couple has had to overcome health and physical issues in recent years — giving group members another reason to help the family.

The “I grew up in Newton-Conover” group paid the Connors' monthly electricity bill.

On Thursday, Newton, Santa Claus and newly appointed Newton Mayor Anne Stedman paid the Connors a visit. 
Lit under red and green lights on their front porch, Mary and Ronnie walked outside with two large smiles strapped across their faces.

Newton and the group handed the family a framed photo of the house — the house that started the whole ordeal. It read, “Christmas time is here, so we'll be drawing near, for happiness and cheer, we thank you for your Christmas spirit, and sharing it through the year.”

Then, the group told the Connors their electricity bill had been paid for the month — a tidbit they had not yet learned about.

“Wow…wow,” Mary said. She put her hands across her cheeks. “Just wow.” 

Mary said she starts assembling her large-scale decorations for Halloween first, and then Christmas.

“I haven’t found anything for Valentine’s Day yet, but I’m looking,” she said, adding that she and her husband have been decorating for seven years. “They really cause a stir during Halloween.”

This year, Mary said they handed out more than 600 bags of candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

When asked why they do it, Ronnie had a quick response. 
“She’s a nut,” he said, adding that he and a neighbor put up all the decorations each year.

For Mary, the decorations bring out a joy in children, something she lost years ago. 
“My son got killed when he was 10 yearsold,” she said, adding that she enjoys seeing the joy the festive lights and inflatables bring to children. “Now, everybody calls me their black grandmother."