Tacoma community stages early Christmas for sick neighbor

Tacoma community stages early Christmas for sick neighbor »Play Video
TACOMA, Wash. -- It's a little bit early for Ol' Saint Nick on East Morton Street in Tacoma, where the leaves are still falling from the trees and jack-o-lanterns adorn many of the porches, two days shy of Halloween.

That hasn't slowed down Carlos Pena, who spent the past three days transforming his century-old house into a winter wonderland: hand-carved candy canes, life-size glittering reindeer, a string of lights in the doorway.

"I love Christmas. It makes me happy," he said, digging through boxes of decorations in his garage. "As you can tell, lots of lights to put up still."

But the pre-Halloween holiday lights aren't for Pena this year, or even for the kids who live down the block. They're for his elderly neighbor across the street, whose third battle with cancer may keep her from seeing Christmas this year.

"Nobody deserves cancer - period. But she's such a wonderful woman," Pena said. "You just meet her and you fall in love with her. It hurts, 'cause she's family."

They may not technically be Pena's family, but Jim and Phoebe Bauer have been married 57 years - 52 of them spent in their home on East Morton Street. Phoebe has battled a number of illnesses in recent years, Jim said, but this latest battle with cancer has left her thin and frail.

"She's having a few more different problems - just even sitting down. It's messed her up pretty good," he said.

Knowing what a difficult time Phoebe is having - and how much she has always loved the Christmas lights in her neighborhood - Pena hatched a plan this week: a way to boost the human spirit by injecting a little holiday spirit. He and his brother spent more than two days decking Pena's house - across from Phoebe's - in twinkling lights.

Pena isn't alone. His next door neighbors heard what was happening and pledged to put their lights up early, too. Across-the-street neighbor and Tacoma city councilman Marty Campbell said his lights will go up this weekend. Next to Campbell's house, relative Jeffrey Abrams said his decorations are set to debut on Saturday.

"It's definitely early, but I understand the reason behind it," Abrams said, standing next to his son and daughter on their porch. "Cancer has affected our family and if all I have to do to make somebody's life happier is hang a string of lights, it seems like a pretty small sacrifice to make."

With some of the neighborhood lights illuminated Tuesday night, Phoebe shuffled to the front door of her house with the help of her husband. She stood there in the doorway for a moment as Pena and Ray Ostrander, who lives with him and helped with the decorations, watched and smile.

"She can't come out. She won't call you and tell you, but you know she's enjoying it," Ostrander said. "Just knowing she's enjoying them is enough."

Just at that moment, Phoebe's husband came across the street to say thank you.

"It's pretty neat to have neighbors like that," Jim said. "She loves these guys, and it's fantastic."

"It's beautiful for her, and well, for me, too," he added.