Skeletons Bring Cheer to a Neighborhood

Skeletons Trees
During the shelter-in-place period, neighbors have been following the tale of Twiggy and Slim as it plays out on a lawn and driveway on the property of Charles Christy and Julie. Photo by Mary Jeanne Oliva

It started small, one skeleton leaning by a mailbox on the three-block long Atherton Drive in the mid-century modern Santa Clara neighborhood of Maywood.

Charles Christy and his girlfriend, Julie, had a spare skeleton, so put it to use. But didn’t the poor guy look lonely? And who needs loneliness these days? So Julie bought another. “I wanted the interaction between them,” she says.

Julie, an accountant, and Charles, a project manager in software, both working from home during the pandemic, take infection warnings seriously.

They shop as infrequently as possible, and disinfect every item that comes into their home, which, like all the homes in Maywood, was designed by Anshen and Allen, the architects who also designed for Joe Eichler, and was built by Mackay Homes in the early 1950s.

Skeleton date
The tale of Slim and Twiggy is one of growing fondness blossoming into romance, as seen when the skeletons go on a date. Courtesy of Charles and Julie

“It all began on May 5th, possibly as a way to start having some sort of interaction with others where I wasn't afraid of dying,” says Julie. “It was a simple start with a skeletal wave from the mailbox, while wearing a mask. Few people noticed, but it put a smile on my face.”

The display quickly grew. The skeletons washed the car, fetched their skeletal cat from  a tree, went camping – and people did notice.

“It’s a great encouragement to take a daily walk!’ says Mary Jeanne Oliva, who lives a few blocks away and brought the display to our attention. “One ten-year-old girl said, ‘Oh, can you make them nurses or teachers?’ One neighbor sends pictures of them to their family in India every morning.”

She notes that others in Maywood try to brighten the shelter-in-place mood by putting up party lights, as Mary and her husband, Stephen Estes, do. Teddy bears in the window don’t work with Mackays, as front windows are blocked by courtyard fencing.

Animal shelter
Styx the cat, whose name was inspired by a neighbor's suggestion, came into the picture when the skeletal couple visited the animal shelter. Courtesy of Julie and Charles.

But these skeletons go beyond anything else. Scenes change every day. Julie is the designer and scriptwriter, as it were, and she is aided by Charles, who helps set them up and take them in at night. And get this. There’s a plot.

Much of it came about through neighborhood interaction.

“We named the skeletons because one of the children said, ‘What are their names?’ and I said, ‘I don’t think they have them yet.’ So the next day they had names: Twiggy, Slim, and Styx the cat. 'Styx' was also a neighbor’s idea, Julie says.

“The kids talk to them, the kids wave at them,” she says. “People want us to put a suggestion box out, particularly the kids. They want to see the skeletons do things that they can connect with. The kids want to see them coloring coloring books. Some of the adults said, it’s hot this week, [so] can we put them in a swim suit?”

“What I’m finding, which was a little bit odd, is [neighbors are] wanting to see themselves in the skeletons, because the skeletons are doing things that used to be normal and things we used to take for granted.”

Julie and Charles
Julie and Charles have a history with both Halloween and skeletons. Courtesy of Charles and Julie

“We had one neighbor want us to put masks on the skeletons,” Julie says. “I put out a note, ‘We are skeletons, we are already dead,’ with a smiley face. There’s a freedom, because they’re skeletons. They can live their life without being scared of the virus.”

Fourteenth century images from the Black Death often show skeletons coming for their victims. Was this why Julie chose skeletons for the yard rather than other creatures? Not at all.

Charles and Julie are simply into skeletons, wearing elaborate skeleton makeup that takes hours to apply for Halloween. It’s a hobby that pays. At a country and western club, they took home $2,000 at a best costume contest.

One exciting scene involved skeletons on a motorcyle, with fans set up to blow Twiggy’s long scarf. “The scarf was blowing in the wind, it was really cool looking. I could watch it for 20 minutes. Just watching the air flow was very soothing,” Julie says.

The motorcycle scene proved one of the more popular. A new display goes up every day. Courtesy of Charles and Julie

What makes the display worth repeat visits – many people come every day, or almost – is not only that it changes, but that it charts a romance. You can catch up with Twiggy and Slim on the Facebook page.

“May 16: Twiggy had a good time hanging out with Slim, so she invited him fishing in her canoe. May 17: Rainy day, so why not dance in the rain?”

“There was a proposal yesterday,” Julie says. “Slim proposed to Twiggy yesterday.”

“I have plans,” she says. “What these two are going to do together as they live their life in the front yard in front of everybody. People are really involved.”

“There’s been a lot of interaction with the people. They pose with [the skeletons], they often put their dogs in the scene and photograph them.”

“People keep their social distancing,” Julie says. “The air is moving and what not.” She says some people, however, simply enjoy the scene from their cars.

Many people are neighbors who walk or bike by, but people come from farther away as the word gets out on Next Door and otherwise.

Julie says, “The joy is, people want to see somebody doing normal things, and having fun at it, while we’re in this situation.”

Are folks in your neighborhood taking steps to improve people’s lives and moods during the pandemic? Let us know!

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