Interview conducted by Rhett Palmer; Listen to Rhett’s podcasts at rhettpalmer.com
You know it’s Christmas when Tara is all lit up. It’s the Grall family and it’s been their gift to our community for how many years, Mrs. Grall?
Marge Grall: Since 1989.
So Tell Me, What Initiated The Idea Of Lighting Up Tara?
Bernie Grall: Probably having eight children contributed to it. We enjoy Christmas. It’s a special time of the year. People seem to be at their best at Christmastime, so we thought we’d share that with our community.
Didn’t This Grow Slowly? How Did This First Start Out, Marge?
Marge: It first started as a Republican Women’s Club event where you had the florists come in and decorate various buildings in town, and they picked our building that year. It was newly constructed. So then florists would come in and decorate and then people could come through and make a donation to the charity of their choice. So that’s how it started, way back in 1989. And then it grew from there, very slowly, a couple trees at a time.
How Many Displays Do You Have Now?
Bernie: Well, as you know, we do not do the inside any longer. We did the inside up until three years ago, and there were 20 rooms we used to decorate back then.
Twenty rooms! And why did you stop doing that? It was fascinating to walk in there and see all the decorations, the trains…
Bernie: Exhaustion. It’s a major job. We used to start first of September. The Snow Village itself would take a whole month to put up. And this was all done after hours because I was still practicing law. But we had over 300 houses in the Snow Village and it would take up a big room, probably the size of 20 x 40. We also decorated 17 trees, and then we did the outside as well, and today we still continue the outside.
And How Many Displays Are Out There?
Bernie: Well, it’s hard to count it. We’re in change right now. I’m going from your traditional lights to the LED lights, and so that’s a big modification. We probably have 30 life-size characters, including our 10- foot camels, in addition to another 20 displays.
For someone who hasn’t been there, describe some of the displays. You mentioned the camels, the 10-foot camels.
Bernie: Well, the displays were all custom-made years ago by a gentleman named Steve Hayes. Steve is a retired fireman and he made all these figurines based upon, if I recall, a coloring book. And they’re life-size figurines. As a matter of fact, I’m restringing what I call “The Four Wise Guys,” the three Wise Men and a shepherd. They’re about 7 or 8 feet tall. We’re restringing those now to LED lights. It takes me close to two weeks to do each character. It’s about 800 to 1,000 lights on each one.
So It’s 800 To 1,000 Lights Per Character?
Bernie: That’s per The Wise Guys. Now, the camels have 1,800 lights on each of them. It takes us about a year. I’ll have a camel in my living room for the next year restringing it. What you have to do is take all the lights off, sand them all down, paint them, and then you put three zip ties per light on the camels. So the camels have approximately 5,000 zip ties and 1,800 lights.
Now, You Don’t Really Have These In Your Living Room, Do You?
Bernie: I absolutely do. One at a time, though. We’ll bring in one at a time and I’ll work on it at night as we’re watching television.
Now, When You First Started This In 1989, Christianity Wasn’t Being Castigated Then. Have You Taken Some Heat For Your Religious Displays?
Marge: No, never. No. People have always been very appreciative. We get letters from people saying they stopped by or they came great distances to see them and everything. So, no problems there.
Now, Did You Have Any Idea When You Started This That This Would Be Such An Iconic Place?
When you first were going to shut down the inside a couple years ago, I thought you were going to shut the whole thing down. I was actually upset about that.
Bernie: Well, we cannot shut the whole thing down. I think it means too much to our family and also to the community. But the year we shut it down, we had over 15,000 people come through the office to see the displays. And as you remember, we used to run buses back and forth for the folks so they could park off-site. We’ve had thoughts about bringing it back – maybe in my next life.
So There Is A Chance Of Reviving It?
Bernie: There’s always a chance.
Maybe the community could get together somehow and we could cultivate some volunteers or a volunteer group and then the burden wouldn’t be on your back.
Marge: Well, the burden is on his back (laughter) and he doesn’t consider it a burden. But it’s kind of his thing, so we were all the elves. But he was the big planner.
Bernie: We are blessed to be able to do it, to have that opportunity. We bought that property years ago. It’s a beautiful piece of property and we are very fortunate with building out there. Christmas is such a special time, and to display on that kind of a property is very unique. And for that reason, I think it’s something we look forward to every year.
I think it’s great. It’s got to touch the “Cockles of ye heart.” To me, you’ve got to pay a visit to Tara. If you don’t go out to Tara at Christmastime, it hasn’t been a complete Christmas.
Bernie: Well, I’ll tell you what. If you’re not in the Christmas spirit before you go out there, you’re definitely in the Christmas spirit when you leave there.
And I applaud you for blatantly celebrating in the fact that it is Christmas. I know you have some signs out there, like “Don’t Take Christ out of Christmas.”
Bernie: It’s not about ‘X’mas; it’s about Christmas. You cannot take Christ out of Christmas. I think if you lose that, you lose something that is so important to this country and to our society. I think it’s critical that we keep Christ not only in Christmas, but in our lives.
Your daughter, Erin, is running for office.
Bernie: That’s correct, she’s running for House of Representatives, District 54.
I Wanted To Ask About The Fact That She Mentioned A Couple Times When We Interviewed Her On-air About You Keeping Her “from The Dark Side.” Do You Want To Expound On Why You’ve Continually Said That To Her?
Bernie: I’m a firm believer in integrity, ethics, honesty, and terms of that nature. No matter what you are, whether you’re an attorney, or a salesman, a car salesman, insurance salesman, whatever you are, those terms are critical I think to your success and to your happiness. And I tried to instill that in all of my children: no matter what they did, those terms were very important. In our profession, the legal profession, it’s very difficult because it’s changed dramatically over the last 40 years. But I think it’s very important that when you shake someone’s hand, you give your word and that’s what you mean. And that has changed. But in my family it does not change. When you shake someone’s hand and you say you’re going to do something, you are going to do it.
Well, Abe Lincoln Said, “above All Things Be Honest, And If You Can’t Be Honest And Be An Attorney, Then Choose Another Career.” Why Do You Think He Said That?
Bernie: I think that goes for everything. First of all, in our community here, you’re going to see the person in your office in a Publix or you’re going to see them at some local event.
So we have accountability.
Bernie: Absolutely. And if you can’t look somebody in the eye in Publix, then you’re in trouble.
Who First Instilled This, Though, In You? Your Grandfather, Father?
Bernie: That’s a good question. My mother was the strongest influence in my life and I’m sure it’s her. But a lot of this has come through life experience. I’ve stepped in a few holes along the way, but I’ve always tried to come back and do the right thing, and hopefully I can continue doing that.
But Jesus did say, “No liars shall enter the Kingdom of God.” So, I mean, that’s pretty defined.
Bernie: And it’s tough to be in politics today and not be a liar because most of them are. So that’s why I’m the “preventer of the dark side.” You tell the truth, you stick with the truth, and you don’t ever forget what you said because you say the same thing over and over and over again.
You’ve had to be an image for your eight children. I would say that’s a great dose of humility.
Bernie: Well, the image, in my opinion, is not myself, but my wife. Most of the time I was working and she was the one taking care of the children and doing the things that needed to be done. I would be there after work and I’d do the coaching and so forth. But you know, to keep the ship afloat, it was my wife; it wasn’t me. I just manned the oars when I had to.
Now, I’d Like To Ask You About The Lights. There Are Actually Hundreds Of Thousands Of Lights Out At Tara Every Christmas; Right?
Bernie: That’s correct, yes.
What Did It Cost To Put Up That Up, Or What Would It Cost To Replace It Today Should You Have To?
Bernie: Well, to replace it would be priceless. And to tell you what it costs, it would probably be about ten or twelve college educations, a few marriages thrown in, and probably a 401K.
(Laughter) You’ve got this thing all figured out.
Bernie: No, I’ve just never put a price on it. Every year we buy new stuff and bring new stuff in. And as I say, I am very blessed I can do this. I don’t go overboard, but I definitely make it different every year, and better.
Well, I am the fictitious Mayor of the Airways, and as a representative of my constituency, I would like to personally thank and applaud the Grall family. A lot of people may not get to say this, so on their behalf I am saying it: “Thank you.” Do you know how many lives, how many people look forward to coming out to Tara every year? And I mean that; that’s very heartfelt and I’m sincere.
Bernie: Well, thank you very much. And that’s really the reason we do it. We want to touch lives and touch hearts.
You Have Succeeded In Doing That. Is There Anything I Have Been Remiss In Asking Either Of You That You’d Like The Public To Know About Tara?
Marge: I think mostly I’d like people to know that we don’t put everything new out every year. A lot of our lights are replaced, and it’s a building experience. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s kind of like when people say to me, “How did you have eight kids?” We didn’t have eight kids at one time. So it’s the same thing with Christmas. It started in ‘89 and we just have added things as we’ve gone along. And then there’s upkeep. Bernie is redoing all the wiring; I change all the light bulbs that go out and that kind of thing. So, it’s been a real family effort.
You All Work On It As A Family, All Eight Children?
Marge: And the grandkids, too. We usually start putting things out on Thanksgiving weekend and it’s just a flurry of activity in the yard with all sizes of people, kids and everybody are involved.
Thank you for sitting down with me, and thanks for Tara!