- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

HOMEWOOD, Ala. (AP) - What one neighbor meant for evil, an entire neighborhood has turned to good.

In the form of Christmas lights. In February. And March.

Here’s what led to a Winter Wonderland that has appeared in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Last week, a beloved elderly resident - affectionately known to neighbors as “Mr. Frank” - went to his mailbox and found a hate-filled letter. This is what it said:

“We are a group of your neighbors who are concerned about the appearance of some homes on the street (and property values.) We are writing to you to ask you to remove your Christmas decorations!!! Also, please consider cleaning up your yard and remove the plants along the edge of the yard.

“It might be in your best interest to consider selling your home so the yard can be properly landscaped and the house torn down (so a new one can be built that is more fitting with the other homes on the street.) Thank you.”

The neighborhood is one of the city’s most charming and most desired. It is best known as “The Kid Zone,” in part because Mr. Frank himself took it upon himself to have street signs made saying just that as a warning to cut-through motorists to slow down because of the many families in the area with small children playing outside.

Mr. Frank, who grew up in his family home and moved back after his mother died, confided to a neighbor about the letter and soon word of the nastiness got around. “He was devastated,” said another neighbor, Carrie Engle. “It horrified all of us that knew about it.”

So they took action. Dozens of neighbors - at least 30 of them - went into their attics and basements and pulled out their own Christmas lights in a brightly colored show of solidarity. “He told our neighbor the reason he keeps his Christmas lights on his tree is because he sits on his porch and sees people constantly run our stop sign and he’s afraid they’ll hit his tree and get hurt,” Engle said.

As for Mr. Frank’s yard, Engle said it’s beautiful, and a source of pride for all of the neighbors.

“He works in his yard nonstop and personally I think he does nothing but increase the value of my home,” she said. “He’s taught me more about gardening than anybody. He’s a gentle, kind soul.”

Engle said the neighborhood has turned it into a teaching moment, for both adults and kids alike. She has three children, ages 16, 13 and 9, and said the ordeal has upset them. “I was telling them that this was bullying, and we’re taught to love our neighbors so that’s what we should do,” she said.

Already loved, Mr. Frank has become increasingly popular in recent days. Engle estimates that he’s received between 50 to 100 cards in his mailbox, as well as baked goods. Here’s what her own 9-year-old, Cade, wrote to him: “Dear Mr. Frank, I’m so sorry that that person rote (sic) that note. We do not want you to leave. Don’t put your Christmas lights up, keep them up. It looks so pretty.”

“I know that he was extremely hurt and upset, but I’ve seen him smile more now,” Engle said of Mr. Frank. “When he is outside, people stop and shake his hand.”

“It’s been a neat way for the community to slow down, and make it a priority to get to know him,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to take time to stop and make sure he knows we’re there and we appreciate him.”


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