(This article originally published Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2000, in The News Herald's "Bay Book" column.)
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Christmas Tree Lane, a meandering paved trail on the western reaches of Panama City Beach (Laguna Beach), is lined by everything but what you might expect, given the name.
More oleanders and palms grow here than spruce and cedar, more scrub oaks than even scraggly Charlie Brown-style pine saplings.
There's no snow to frolic in, either — an early morning frost is the most one might hope for. Ground cover consists of sand, red clay, weeds and one yard given over to white marble rock and gravel.
You'll find no igloos or enchanted elf castles on Christmas Tree Lane. Instead, lines of mobile homes give way to abandoned houses, old tourist properties for sale or rent, and empty lots.
But sprinkled among these are pockets of brightness, houses where people have planted roots (and grass). One such place is a modest home that, despite being situated about halfway along the lane, is labeled "The Rhodes End" by a sign at its entrance.
In the front yard stands a brightly-painted 3-foot-tall wooden Santa Claus and a similar snowman that may or may not represent good ol' Frosty.
Homeowner Richard Rhodes, 65, has lived on the lane since 1987, and he said the Christmas spirit has always moved him to decorate.
"I came here from Colorado," he said. "I bought a little hotdog stand on the beach, and I've been working on the beach ever since."
When Rhodes first moved onto the lane, none of his neighbors did any holiday decorating.
"I've always done that all my life," he said. "My wife died four years ago and my son died two years ago on Christmas Eve, so last year was the only year I didn't do any decorating."
He's gotten back into the spirit this year — a toy train runs around the Christmas tree inside the home, much to the delight of his two grandchildren — and he has plans for an even bigger display for Christmas 2001.
"I want to plant a Christmas tree in the front yard in January so I'll have one to decorate next year," he said.
And finally, Christmas Tree Lane could live up to its name.