Earl and Marcia Buenger of Edwardsville were surprised to look out their window Monday morning and discover Christmas all over their front yard.
But they should have been expecting something. They said their neighbor, Rich Hampton and his family, have been treating them to some kind of April Fools' Day surprise for several years now.
This year there were large candy canes on sticks filling the yard, along with lighted candy canes and small lights on shrubs in the yard.
There also was a letter on his door, notifying Earl and Marcia that the Christmas decorations were in violation of a 1933 ordinance requiring that all Christmas decorations be taken down within 90 days after the holiday.
The letter proposed a fine of $500 and suggested it be sent in cash to the house next door on Butler Boulevard, which happens to belong to Hampton, who also happens to be the city treasurer.
For the record, Hampton, with tongue-in-cheek, denied any involvement. But oddly enough, the Christmas decorations belong to his mother, he said.
And he did say that there was no such city ordinance and he expected Earl and Marcia might still get a letter from the subdivision homeowner's association about their Christmas tardiness.
The letter on the door suggested that if Earl doesn't pay up quickly, he could be evicted to Granite City where the couple lived before moving to Edwardsville 18 years ago. That is where they owned O'Brien Tire Co. in Granite City, now run by his sons.
Earl, 80, and Marcia, 79, retired 21 years ago.
The April Fools surprises have been a delight for the couple. Last year they had 20 big blue trash receptacles show up in their driveway, Marcia said.
Another year, it was a realty for-sale sign.
"The first we knew was when people were calling to ask why we were moving," Marcia said.
"One year there was yellow police tape all over the garage door," Earl said. "It was hanging like those brushes in a car wash."
Then there was the sunny day a few years ago when they found a small snowman in their yard on April Fools' Day.
"It had been stored in their freezer waiting for the day," Earl said. "You have to admire their dedication."
Marcia said another neighbor offered to help them put the stuff in Hampton's yard. But they turned down the offer because whatever shows up each year always disappears as well.
As for the fine, Earl figures he will pay it in the spirit in which it was levied: He will use fake money.
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