Monday, July 23, 2007

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner -- 1942-2007

Say what you will about Tammy Faye ... the fact remains she was a spirited individual who grabbed the gusto in life right until the end. Battling cancer for years, she passed away at her home Friday at the age of 65.

I was not into the evangelical religion of the Bakkers in the 1980s but the mere fact that I lived in that part of the world during those years made it impossible to escape what went on at the PTL ministries in Fort Mill, SC, 15 miles south of Charlotte, NC.

Their "Heritage USA" complex covered thousands of acres and included a 500-room luxury hotel, a cable TV station where they filmed their PTL show, an amphitheater, and a 2,300-acre Christian-themed amusement park.

Every year they would decorate Heritage USA for Christmas, and invite the community to drive through the miles of roadways at no charge. When my son was three years old we decided to make the drive to Fort Mill and check it out.

It was fascinating! I had heard that Christmas was Tammy Faye's favorite holiday (it's mine, too) ... and one look at Heritage USA decorated for the holidays confirmed it. It was Toyland and the Holy Land all rolled into one.

There must have been hundreds of thousands of lights everywhere -- lining buildings and fences, in trees and shrubs -- and every Christmas decoration you can imagine. One particular lane had huge lighted candy canes on both sides that formed an arch over the roadway for a car to drive under.

Gingerbread people, snowmen, penguins, Christmas trees ... it was all there. In another area was a replica of the Holy Land with the "Upstairs Room" for anyone who wanted to stop in and pray.

It made an impression on me that I will never forget. Shortly after that PTL went under and the Bakkers lost their empire ... and never again anywhere else have I seen anything that comes close to the Christmas decorations at Heritage USA.

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