Heart of Louisiana: Christmas lights at Bayou Gauche

Heart of Louisiana: Christmas lights at Bayou Gauche
Approximate location of Hafford's display in Bayou Gauche -- see story text for driving directions (Google Maps)
Approximate location of Hafford's display in Bayou Gauche -- see story text for driving directions (Google Maps)

Before the sun goes down each night, Lenny Hafford is patrolling his yard, looking for missing light bulbs.

Hafford says, "You've got to keep looking. Every once in a while, you go outside and see they're not working and you'll look and they obviously the geese done plucked the lights out."

Lenny loves Christmas, and he loves decorating his 5-acre yard on Grand Bayou Road.

Hafford says, "We live in the back of Bayou Gauche in the middle of nowhere. We are definitely out of the way."

All of this started three years ago, just before his mother died.  Since then Lenny has been on a non-stop mission to build more and more lighted displays.

Hafford says he's "just doing it in the memory of my mom. She was into Christmas pretty much so I just thought of doing it for her and she passed away and it just started snowballing after that."

All of the ornaments are made of quarter-inch metal rods.

Hafford says, "I see something I want to build and just draw out. Then I cut it, then I weld it together and paint it and put your lights on. Oh lord, it's a job!"

Three electric meters start spinning just before dark. They feed underground cables and a web of extension cords.  And as the sun sets behind a lingering rain cloud, this yard on Grand Bayou Road transforms into a brilliant holiday extravaganza.

The toy soldiers at Hafford's front gate were originally 30 feet tall.  He says, "I had to use a truck and rope block and everything else to try to put them up, so the safety factor was in there. So I had to cut them down to size to those that are about 20 feet."

The giant snowman is 25 feet tall.  And next to a small carousel, you find a 30-foot-long dragon.  The dragon keeps an eye on three ice-skating penguins, enjoying the Christmas chill with polar bears and an igloo.

Hafford says, "Probably up to about 80,000 lights so far. I still have a lot of stuff to put out but time is running out.  It started off with one acre and now it's up to five acres. So I'm going to have to start expanding across the street to the neighbors -- if I can!"

Lenny dug a large duck pond in front of his house.  That adds a magical reflection to the lights, with leaping dolphins, a life-size nativity scene and the spinning lights of a peppermint mill.

The favorite towers above Lenny's garage.  "My favorite one is the Frosty," he says. "When I was growing up as a kid my mom, I can still remember sitting on her, watching Frosty the Snowman and crying like a baby when he was melting."

Santa has a few different modes of travel, from helicopter to parachute, the standard reindeer and sleigh and a five-car polar express.

Lenny works for Entergy, the electric utility company, so he knows how to wire things.  But the job does not get him a break on his utility bill.  Hafford says, "Probably for the month of December the bill with all of them together, probably about 900 bucks."

This five-acre display appears on the horizon as you near the end of a long dark road. It's getting a little busy on weekends.

Hafford says, "Some of my neighbors, they said, man, nobody knew where Grand Bayou was. Now everybody knows where Grand Bayou was."

And the reward comes from the families that stop along the shoulder of Grand Bayou Road.

"Just to hear their expressions and their voice," Hafford says.  "They love it. I love it just to see them."

It's an unexpected celebration of lights and Christmas, in the middle of nowhere.

Hafford says he wants to go into business constructing the holiday yard decorations after he retires from his job with the utility company.


Driving directions:

From New Orleans, take I-10 to I-310.

I-310 south toward Boutte/Houma.

Exit on US 90 west toward Houma.

3 miles later, just past the town of Paradis, turn left onto La. 306 South.

Go 4 miles on la-306 (Bayou Gauche Rd), turn left on Grand Bayou Road for 7/10 of a mile.