Down a subdivision street in Flowery Branch, the mailboxes all look the same, standing at attention near the sidewalk. The houses look alike, too, with a few accents varying here and there. Except for one.
It’s decked out for Christmas — and for a special reason.
“When we were in Dunwoody, we always had great decorations,” said Angela Mastrogiovanni, who rents the house and lives there with her mother and father. “Everybody got involved.”
For the past few years, though, not everyone has been able to get involved.
Her father, Benny Mastrogiovanni, was diagnosed with paranasal cancer in 2015, and has since been battling it and the effects of radiation therapy, along with some other complications and dementia. He’s in remission now, but Angela said this Christmas may be the last one her father is around for because of his health problems.
“Every Christmas since has been awful because he's just been downhill,” she said.
So this Christmas, she's not letting anything stand in the way of the joy Christmas is supposed to bring. As soon as Halloween ended, she decided to go all out for Christmas — and she wasn’t just going to buy the standard decorations from the store.
Just about everything that’s spread across her yard and even her neighbor’s yard is handmade. From Rudolph and all his friends to the carolers near the door and each penguin beside the flagpole-turned-Christmas tree.
“It's great,” said Bridget Mastrogiovanni, Angela’s mother. “I mean, I'm glad somebody is decorating because I can't do it and he can't do it. I'm too busy taking care of him. She's good at anything she tries. She's very crafty.”
Angela didn’t just do it for the fun or because she enjoys painting and crafting. She wanted to make this Christmas special for her father, who she said gave her and the rest of the family the best Christmases while growing up on — aptly named — Happy Hollow Road in Dunwoody.
“We had a big fountain out front and we just grew up with a lot of decorations,” Angela said. “And we love Christmas. We've always done big — we're Italian. We used to do Christmas Eve dinner with 30 or 40 people.”
Benny would always get most excited for that fountain.
“The fountain in the front yard was very neat,” he said through his thick Italian accent. “I put soap in there, and oh man, I'll tell you, everybody, people, they came to take a picture there, because it looked like snow.”
Now, instead of watching people take photos by the fountain, he sits in the living room in his daughter’s home and looks at all the decorations she made by hand, most of which were made with him on her mind.
“We never wanted for anything,” Angela said. “He worked his ass off to get us whatever we wanted and to make everything special. We spent Christmases in Europe and skiing and whether it was Montana or France, we always had a wonderful, wonderful Christmas.”
So to return the favor, she found some cross ties in her backyard, cut them to size, painted the tips black for a nose, added branches for antlers, cut plywood for legs and put a Santa hat on each for an extra touch. Her brother made poles to stick the reindeer on to make it look like they’re taking off in the night.
And of course, Angela built a sleigh stuffed with gifts and St. Nicholas himself.
“I wanted to use that little Santa Claus because that’s been in our family forever,” Angela said. “It's the one piece he remembers … He just sits there and smiles and looks at the lights. It just makes him happy and if I can make him happy, just one person, that's fine.”
She painted the big windows at the front of the house to look like a gingerbread house and added some much-larger-than-lifesize gingerbread men she made out of plywood.
Even the carolers at the front door are special and made with a purpose
“When we moved up here two years ago, they started going to Prince of Peace Catholic Church. My dad always wanted to go to 10:30 Mass because the choir sang at 10:30 … It's just that music, he loves it. So that just meant something to me, so that's the first thing I made, actually.”
Then she painted a snowy scene with a polar bear and penguins for the yard on some plywood and added a few individual penguins, too.
“It was just like, I'm going to do it,” Angela said. “I'm going to do it right this year. I love Christmas and I want to do this, and it was a pretty crappy year for all of us.”
On top of her father’s health declining, Angela started the year off by having a heart attack.
“I'm lucky to even be able to do this this year,” Angela said.
But again, even with that, she’s not only doing it for herself. She wants to show the neighborhood and everybody that drives by that it’s the most wonderful time of the year, despite what they might be going through.
“Christmas decorations always make people happier,” Angela said. ”It’s for me, it's for him, it's for family, it's for the neighbors. It's for anybody that enjoys Christmas.”
Angela said making the decorations almost made her feel like it brought everything back to a traditional Christmas before things were commercialized. It took her back to the days of decorating the Dunwoody house with her parents, times her mother remembers fondly.
“It's hard to compare,” Bridget said of the home in Dunwoody and the one they’re in now. “They’re different, so it's hard to compare the two. It's just as good, though.”
Whether it stacks up to what they had in Dunwoody or not, Angela isn’t too worried. She’s only worried about making people, but especially her father, happy during this season.
“It's my way of saying Merry Christmas,” Angela said. “Happy holidays, make it fun, be a kid, because you don't know how many Christmases you have left.”