Spreading Christmas cheer in Given one strand of lights at a time
GIVEN — Myra Watts has lived on her family farm on Pleasant Valley Road her whole life. She said that's where she'll take her last breath.
As cars drive past Watts' white farmhouse they'll see a mile's worth of string lights attached to a fence. The sound of gravel giving way under tires can be heard from her living room as people drive by to admire the view.
Christmas has always been her favorite holiday, and this year she decided to have some fun with it. As the sun sinks past the leafless trees on the rolling hills of the farm, the string lights spring into action.
The soft white string lights attached to her fence aren't new. She put them up last year to help her see outside after dusk. Even though they were already up, she had to replace several strands because they were on all year.
She's had help along the way. Longtime friend and Sandyville resident Karen Russell has been alongside Watts since the beginning of December to make the vision become a reality.
Watts' decorations are more than having something pretty to look at. They are about creating memories. Before Watts was even done with all of her lights she'd have families drive past and compliment her on the progress. One evening Watts saw two small children in awe of the lights.
That's why she decided to go all out this year.
Watts and her father were inseparable growing up. He was her confidant and she was his only girl. As Myra was stapling some of the last strands of white lights to her fence, she said she gets emotional when she talks about him.
"My dad was the most wonderful man in the world," Watts said fighting back tears. "Every little girl should have a father like I had."
Growing up, Watts had simple Christmases. Her brother would chop down a tree somewhere on the 157-acre property, drag it inside and she would decorate it. Most of the time they would fill the tree with extra branches.
Some of her favorite childhood memories are from Christmas. She used to curl up on the couch and watch Christmas specials with her mom and dad. They all sat around the TV smiling. It was magical for Watts.
She never asked for much. She didn't even have her own room until she was practically a teenager.
Watts loves horses. She can't count on her fingers how many she's had over the years. Her love for horses began at a young age. Years ago, when her dad was still around, she saw him building something in the barn. It was a tack room for her. Just like many of the other gifts from her father, she didn't ask for it.
Her dad died 11 years ago in the care of Watts in their family home. Her father's death caused unmeasurable heartbreak, but it also created a long-lasting friendship.
Russell lost her husband in July and Watts lost her dad in November the same year. They grieved together, healed together and now they've been hanging lights together for weeks.
As the ladies unbox string lights on the front porch, the sun is setting and the temperature dropping. They joke if they'll ever finish the project.
Unlike the brand new lights, everything else on the property, even down to the furniture, is at least 100 years old. The barn and house were built between 1870-90, Watts' family purchased the land in 1957.
The house is made out of solid oak slabs. The stairs are narrow and steep leading to her second floor where the creaking floors lead to her antique-filled bedroom.
Since her father died, Watts has become fascinated with history and ancestry. Her bed has been in her family for 150 years.
The festive decorations have opened the door for Watts to share the history and beauty of her family's farm with the rest of Jackson County. When people ask her how she's managed to maintain the property, she gives all the credit to God.
Without the influence of her heavenly and earthly fathers, Watts said, she wouldn't have anything.
— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.