Andrew Dys

Rock Hill retiree's gift to us -- light

Arthur Roberts has strung Christmas lights at his home, above and below, for more than 15 years. Now, he says he can't afford to replace the burned-out bulbs.
Arthur Roberts has strung Christmas lights at his home, above and below, for more than 15 years. Now, he says he can't afford to replace the burned-out bulbs.

For nearly 20 years, Arthur Roberts gave around the holidays so others could receive. He gave no money.

"Didn't think money was what I had best to offer," said the 83-year-old Roberts, a retired welder.

Not gifts, either.

"Presents don't stay in your heart," Roberts said.

Roberts gave light. He is the Christmas lights man of the neighborhood west of Cherry Road behind Richmond Drive Elementary School, a place once called Rock Hill Homes, then Catawba Terrace.

But Roberts said this year might be his last. The broken economy is the grinch. Roberts is long-retired, on a fixed income he described as, "Getting smaller every day." He tries to make a buck delivering vehicles for an auto dealer, but car sales are slow, so trips are fewer.

Roberts can't afford new lights to replace bulbs that are blown or broken.

More than 20,000 lights shone on his property during his heyday. In 1998, vandalism to his lights caused such a stink among neighbors who were outraged that the damage-to-lights story was front-page news in The Herald and featured on Charlotte TV.

He's spent countless thousands of dollars over the years but can't buy any more Santas, reindeer, replacement bulbs or even light strings. He doesn't want his lights to be less than great.

"I didn't care what it cost," Roberts said. "I didn't worry about what the electric cost to light them up. I just did it because people liked it. Gave 'em joy. Hope."

After starting with a modest amount of lights and a manger he built himself, Roberts' lights became legend.

"It just about breaks your heart," said one of Roberts' long-grown children, Yvette Young. "I was at York Tech the other day, and this lady came up to me. She said, 'You're the Christmas lights lady!" I told her no, my daddy is the Christmas lights man. I didn't have the heart to tell her this might be the last."

There are lights on the roof and fence and outbuilding, porch and carport and clothesline. And everywhere in between.

"Everybody I know at Rock Hill High knows my granddaddy's house is the Christmas house," Ethan Young said. "They knew when I was in kindergarten."

The lights are so well known that one time a child was found by his mother to have broken a light or two.

"That young'un's mother marched him right down here and made him apologize," Yvette Young said. "The momma was apologizin', too, cryin', saying she didn't want anybody to ever harm the Christmas man's lights."

One year, the family across the street was getting ready to move. A little boy in the family came across the street, crying, telling Yvette Young, "I'm gonna miss your daddy's lights. They made me feel like Christmas."

I found that little guy, now grown to age 18. He lives around the block, but he can't see the lights from his porch. Darius Hart might as well have moved to Mars.

"We used to sit on the porch, watch the cars come and line up to look at his lights," Hart said. "I would sit out there by myself and watch the lights, and the people. The people who would come and look were always smiling. It was kind of like they got an extra present."

But if Arthur Roberts can't afford more lights, this might be the last present he gives.