At first blush, what Jimmy Parker does for fun sounds a bit macabre and twisted. Once a year, Parker takes holiday figurines of Santa Clauses, shoppers, elves, reindeer and the like, and cuts off their arms, legs or heads.
Parker is hardly a modern-day Scrooge or Grinch, though. Rather, his work is part of a volunteer effort on the part of dozens of employees of the EPB (Electric Power Board) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S., to liven up their downtown office building via elaborately choreographed holiday display windows. Parker actually dismembers the figurines in order to install motors to give them animatronic properties for the display windows.
Parker, a 30-plus-year lineman and construction foreman with EPB, was first approached by the utility to help on the holiday window displays about three years ago. Prior to and throughout his career with EPB, Parker has always been very much a handyman, and in his free time, he builds and rehabs houses. By his own count, he's built seven houses from the ground up and done complete remodels on at least another six to eight.
Home building, in fact, turned out to be Parker's entrée into the electric utility business. “I was doing carpentry work, and a fellow I worked with pointed out that I was good at building things. He suggested that I check with the electric utility, because they needed people to build their lines,” Parker recalls.
Born and raised in the Chattanooga area, Parker has spent nearly his entire career in or around southeastern Tennessee, with only one brief stint building substations in Franklin, North Carolina, U.S. “I'm one of those people you'd call a workaholic,” Parker offers, adding that he finds the EPB holiday display window construction projects interesting, sometimes challenging and always, in the end, rewarding.
“They come to me and say, ‘Can you make this man's arm move? Can you make his head bobble?’” Parker says of the types of work he does for the windows. “One year, we made the reindeer look like they were running by making their legs move. Another year, we built a scene where the kids were all gathered on the lawn and the snow was falling, and they all turned and pointed up to the sky when Santa's sleigh flew by,” he recalls.
A long-standing Chattanooga holiday tradition, Parker says the holiday display windows create a buzz among children and adults alike. EPB volunteers and staff are encouraged to be somewhat secretive about each year's theme in order to build interest in the unveiling, usually on Thanksgiving weekend. Local media will show up as the curtains are pulled back and the displays revealed, and will run pictures and broadcasts in the first few days after.
Throughout the holiday season, Parker says thousands of people will visit the seven display windows that surround EPB's downtown headquarters. “You get to see the reactions of your family plus all the other people who come by,” Parker relates. “It's a big draw and can bring a good crowd any night. You get to listen to the kids' comments, and it makes you proud to be a part of it.”
Beyond the holiday window displays, Parker is proud both of EPB and of his hometown, which he calls “one of the best cities in the country.” He prides himself on being part of a company dedicated to keeping the lights on and power flowing, no matter what. In fact, when reached via phone for an interview about holiday window displays, he had just come down from his bucket truck after repairing a hospital feeder line that had been felled by a storm.
That should surprise no one who knows the lineman who admits he has a hard time not building things both on and off the job. “I built a swimming pool in my backyard, just finished it at the end of last summer,” Parker notes. “Now my wife is telling me I have to take this summer off and stop building things. She's telling me I need to sit back and relax and enjoy it.”
Parker says he's willing to give that a try, having slowed down a bit in the past few years. “I had to start wearing glasses,” he admits, “and it's not as easy to move around the way you have to when you are building houses. I have definitely slowed down a bit.”
Which all sounds well and good — until, that is, he gets the call again from EPB later in the year, asking if he'd like to help out on the holiday display windows.