CHRISTMAS MEMORY: Lighting Up The Hillside

Published 5:52 pm Sunday, December 24, 2023

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By Jane Barnhardt of Oakboro

It was December 25, 1939 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon that my parents, Raymon Hatley and Altha Herlocker, were married.

Forty years later on their anniversary in 1979, our family began the tradition of lighting up the Hatley Hillside outside Oakboro at the corner of Swift and Silver roads. We would do it when conditions permitted. Luminaries were positioned to line and light the way up the hilltop and to the exit; also lighted scenes were placed along the hillside drive, with hundreds of lights in the woodland.

Later, in 2009, over 75 light balls were added high in the oak trees — this was a story in itself.

In the early lightings, Mr. Hatley would meet and greet visitors at the exit. Thus, the tradition to honor our parents began.

A manger scene painted by my aunt in the 1950s and repainted by the family greeted visitors at the entrance. Carolers, two manger scenes, Frosty the Snowman, street lamps, and a Santa Claus doll were in the first lighting and are still used.

The Care Bear scene, added when my niece and I began collecting these bears, is one of the most popular scenes and changes from year to year — what adventure will they have each year?

Family members from five generations have been involved. The family enjoys working together to plan, create the scenes, and decorate the trees and shrubs. The greatest thrill for everyone is standing on the hillside when the multi-breakers are cut on and the hillside is suddenly aglow with lights everywhere.

It is simply breathtaking and well worth all the work. This family tradition became the Hatley family’s way of wishing the community a Merry Christmas.