By Donna Cope, Alabama News Center
Take a turn onto Magnolia Street in Trussville, and you may think you’ve wandered into Santa’s Toy Shop.
Complete with elves, a lineup of toy soldiers, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, a load of Disney characters and more, Bill and Tricia Latham’s gingerbread-style home could be a child’s Christmas dream.
Several toy soldiers line up in formation at the driveway. A large green Grinch and Olaf from the movie “Frozen” always catch children’s interest. A gazebo at the right of the yard adds a whimsical flair, serving as home to several stuffed bears and monkeys, as three owls hover watchfully above. Santa and his reindeer – each carrying the names of the Lathams’ children and grandchildren – proclaim the joy of the Christmas season, high above the home.
“It’s not unusual for people to come and ask us if they can take photos in our yard,” said Tricia Latham, whose husband hand-cuts all of the wooden figures. “One night the cars were coming nonstop, and our children couldn’t get in the driveway.”
In the winter, Bill Latham puts to use his talents as a woodworker and craftsman. He made most of the furniture in their home. The Lathams started their collection of Christmas figures around 1991, when their daughter, Casey, was 2 years old.
“I’d take Casey by the hand through the yard, and she’d climb up the porch railing to turn off the lights,” Bill said, with a chuckle. “She’s still the VP in charge of lights and extension cords. When we added onto our house, we added plugs and wiring for all of the Christmas lights, so now we can turn on the lights from inside the house.”
Graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham today with a master’s degree in occupational therapy, Casey Latham still enjoys the display. She helps her parents install the spotlights and figures after Thanksgiving, a Latham family tradition. A sign with the number of days until Christmas is Casey’s must-have item.
“We can get everything done in about one day,” Bill Latham said.
Each fall, Tricia decides which character to add to the collection. Using an old projector, she sketches her design onto plywood, which Bill cuts into the desired form. Afterward, Tricia paints the wooden figure.
During the spring, Latham trades his wood saw for a baseball, serving as a recruiter for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A former Major League baseball pitcher and coach, Latham appeared in seven games for the New York Mets in 1985 and seven games for the Minnesota Twins in 1986. In 2011, Latham joined the scouting staff of the Los Angeles Dodgers after six years as a professional scout for the Boston Red Sox.
When the weather begins to cool, Latham’s mind invariably travels back to working at the house.
“I have time on my hands in the winter,” he said, with a smile.
He and Tricia met as students at Huffman High School in Birmingham. Like the close relationship they’ve forged throughout 36 years of marriage, their little Toy Shop project will continue.
“Our family has always loved Christmas, so that’s kind of what started us wanting decorations, from the beginning,” Tricia Latham said. “Just seeing everybody drive by – little kids have given us gifts and cookies.
“That’s what it’s all about – that’s what makes you feel so good, is the kids. It puts a smile on their face,” she said.