The sixth annual Forest Lane light show marks the end of a community tradition

by Jasmine Ganaishlal, Danielle Tomlinson and Kiki Sideris

Forest Lane’s popular annual light show is coming to an end on its sixth year running, as homeowners Tom and Maria Fleming prepare to move from Coram to North Carolina this coming February.

The October light show falls during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Both the Halloween and Christmas displays support the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). So far they’ve received more than $10,000 in donations.

Over 1,300 cases of breast cancer have been recorded annually in Suffolk County between 2011 and 2015.

“We both had family members that were affected by breast cancer,” Tom said. “That’s why we picked the cause.”

The show is currently running until Halloween night. Their home on Forest Lane features pumpkins, handmade decorations and 20,000 LED lights, while the Christmas display features 100,000 LEDs, as well as an appearance from Santa Claus.

Luckily for neighbors, the lights don’t affect the local electricity, according to PSEG Long Island’s Corporate Communications Amy Di Leo. “The impact is manageable and doesn’t effect the grid,” Di Leo said.

In the past five years, the Flemings have collected donations from community members for the cause, which is close to their family. They consider the money that goes into creating and upgrading the light show every year to be their donation. They incorporate pink ribbon lights throughout the shows, denoting the universal symbol of breast cancer.

Upgrades cost about $3,000 per year, while the Halloween show costs them an additional $200 in electricity in October and the Christmas show adds about $500 to the December bill. Although the money spent on running the show exceeds the amount of donations raised, Tom says it’s for a good reason. The Flemings live in Maria’s parents’ home, where they are able to plan accordingly while bringing a sense of tradition to their own family.

“The show was designed for the community and it was a good opportunity to raise money for a charity,” Tom said. “Instead of just donating directly, I get to create something that people can enjoy while donating to [BCRF]. Winter is a cold dead time of year and it’s nice to bring some light into the neighborhood.”

It takes 11 months to plan the upcoming shows, building lights and decorations while Halloween preparations begin in August.

Between raising their children, Tom works as a full-time field service engineer and attends night school as a full-time student. He uses his skills as a self-proclaimed “computer dork” to computerize the show, and his wife stays at home with the children while designing the show.

“We think, breathe, eat and sleep Christmas and Halloween,” Tom said.

Lights on the house are synchronized with music broadcast on 107.3FM through a transmitter that utilizes a frequency from an unoccupied local radio station. This year, the Halloween display features hits from shows like “The Addams Family” and “The Walking Dead,” as well as movies like “The Purge,” “Saw” and “One Missed Call.”

“I feel like it adds warmth of neighborliness and traditions for families,” Jessica Mistretta, a first-timer at the show, said. “I love that you can be inside or outside of the car, and the displays [have] a range of lights which is fun for our little guys.”

For the Flemings, part of the joy of putting on the show is watching people enjoy it.

“We love sitting there and watching everybody out in the street,” Maria said. “You could see the kids lining up in the road dancing and singing to their favorite songs and that’s exciting to watch.”

A few blocks over, Elm Avenue offers a little friendly competition with its own annual holiday light show. “It’s always fun to have something to keep pushing you forward,” Tom’s best friend Arthur Giove, who orchestrates the competing light show, says. “My main reason [to put on the show] is what it does for the community.”

However, this season marks the end of the six-year battle as the Flemings prepare to move to North Carolina for a more affordable living and closer proximity to South Carolina, where Tom and his ex-wife’s three children live.

“It’s going to be surely missed,” Tanya Barrett, a resident who has visited Forest Lane Lights with her family as a five-year holiday tradition, said. “It will be one less thing families will get to do together.”

The Flemings say they will miss Forest Lane, but the tradition will follow them to North Carolina, where they will continue to fundraise for breast cancer research. The pink ribbon will continue to be a staple decoration in their light displays.

“It was great being a part of your [the community’s] Christmas traditions,” Maria added. “Seeing the smiling faces and happy kids, it was definitely worth it.”