Retiree decorates from scratch and wouldn’t trade for anything’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Merle Ahner stands among the many lights and homemade Christmas decorations that illuminate the lawn of her home on Ellison Road. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN )

[12/19/2001] Miles from the bright lights of Christmas in town, Merle Ahner’s holiday decorations are nestled in a corner of Warren County where dogs and owls outnumber people.

It’s OK, though.

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“I do this for me, and for the season,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade any of this for anything.”

Each November, Ahner fills her 211 Ellison Road yard with nativity scenes, cartoon characters, Santas and elves, all wooden cut-outs that the 65-year-old retiree has carved and painted by herself.

Cars don’t line up to see her twinkling handiwork on the sparsely populated gravel road off Mississippi 27 South. But Ahner doesn’t care. Neither does her daughter, Wanda Foster, who lives with Ahner.

“I told her, I’ve driven all around town, Mama, and I haven’t found a yard as pretty as yours,'” said Foster, a nurse at Vicksburg Medical Center.

What makes the yard unique, Ahner and Foster say, is the variety.

Ahner has carved out a few of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. The dogs sit right next to one of her favorite cut-outs, a manger scene filled with snowmen.

“I wouldn’t trade my snowmen for anything,” she said.

She doesn’t go to church as much as she’d like to, she says, but Ahner has created a panoramic depiction of Jesus Christ’s life on one fringe of her yard.

A nativity scene sits next to a tableau of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, which abuts a cut-out of Jesus as a man.

She wants to add a resurrection scene.

“It’s really hard to forget the reason for Christmas, so I put most of the light on my scenes from the Bible,” she said before repeating her refrain. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

Ahner adds to the yard display constantly, getting patterns for new designs from a catalog put out by Winfield Collections, a Michigan company.

And she relishes the opportunity to make more.

As she says, she does it partly for herself retirement without anything to do would be too boring, Ahner said. It’s been about five years since she last waited tables at Beechwood Restaurant.

“When you get my age, you can’t just sit around and do nothing,” Ahner said. “I want to have something to do every day.”

On Tuesday, she was hosting two aunts from Crystal Springs who came to her house to see the yard. They were impressed, gazing at the cut-outs as Kenny Rogers crooned Christmas tunes from an outdoor radio.

“It’s beautiful,” said Lucille Kelly.

“I had no idea it was going to be this big,” Lois Phillips said.

Ahner says she’d like more people to make the trip out the highway to see her yard.

“I’m not charging money or anything,” she said. “I just want to share what I have with other people.”

Even if cars don’t line up on Ellison Road, though, Ahner says her spirits won’t be dampened.

It’s Christmas time and all her decorations are out. She wouldn’t trade it for anything, she says, one more time.