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Couple Put Halloween on the Front Burner

Steve Chawkins is a Times staff writer

Now that Halloween is over, Roice and Cheryl Bassett can stow the industrial-sized jug of mustard, take a deep breath and prepare for the main event: Christmas.

Of course, there’s a ton of stuff to do right away. The tombstones have to be packed and hauled back up to the attic--along with the witches, scarecrows, ghosts, Grim Reapers, dragons, fog machine, spotlights, floodlights and the hundreds of orange bulbs that have festooned the front yard for the past week.

His hands still greasy from the night’s labors, Roice today will wheel the big gas barbecue back behind the house. In less than two months it will again do heavy duty out front.

Saturday night, Roice and Cheryl doled out the same coma-inducing junk as the rest of us. But they also poured an ocean of fruit punch as aggressively pink as a Mary Kay Cadillac. And, as they have done for the last three years, they grilled hot dogs for all--trick-or-treaters, neighbors, Roice’s industrial-arts students from Anacapa Middle School and anyone who happened to experience a hunger pang while motoring along the 100 block of Petit Avenue in Ventura.

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In all, the Bassetts handed out about 600 dogs--fewer than the total sold in half an inning at Dodger Stadium but 600 more than I’ve ever dispensed from my front yard for the sheer joy of it.

“Not to be too weird about it, but it’s about breaking the barriers down,” Roice said. “We’re all here to make each other smile.”

Not be too weird about it, but who can say he is wrong?

An affable man who can talk as easily about Deepak Chopra as about Toyota cylinder heads, Roice walks the walk when it comes to following his bliss. At 49, he quit his own engine-rebuilding business four years ago to earn a lot less and do a lot more as a teacher.

“His students worship him,” Anacapa Principal Mike Johnson says. “He just knows what each child needs in any given situation. He’s sometimes soft and caring, sometimes he asks them what they would do, sometimes he says nothing.”

Roice was manning the grill Saturday night as the sun set.

The smell of sizzling meat wafted through the neighborhood. A river of little Raggedy Anns and buccaneers and nurses and spooks slowly wended its way by the house. Traffic slowed as drivers gawked. A few people tentatively accepted their hot dogs and reached into their pockets, only to be told there was no charge.

They were stupefied.

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Earlier in the week, neighbors stopped by to kibitz as Roice hoisted the Loch Ness monster onto his garage roof. The yard sprouted corny (“Ima Goner”) tombstones and Cheryl stuck orange eyes and jagged mouths on the bushes. A jogger huffed by with his thumbs up. At one point, Roice’s mother opened the front door and a small knot of admiring passersby applauded.

“It’s our bad habit,” Cheryl tried to explain as she took a break in a living room crammed with corn stalks and electric jack-o'-lanterns. “We don’t smoke, we don’t drink, we don’t gamble. . . .”

What they do is break out the extension cords and celebrate.

On their first date nine years ago, Roice said to the woman who was to become his wife: “Come on over to my place and let me show you my Christmas lights.”

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A year later, they married.

Today they have a second story that could double as a wholesale showroom for the Novelty Manufacturers Assn.

Halloween is on the south, Christmas on the north. Disney characters, Pooh and his pals, reindeer, a cherub here, a wise man there, a huge Santa made from parachute cloth, the wooden choo-choo that Roice built, the 8-foot dragon painted by 17-year-old daughter Amber--it’s all up there and more, at least $10,000 worth of good cheer and countless hours of work.

In December, Roice will fire up the grill again and spread the customary Styrofoam snow ankle-deep on the lawn.

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“It kills the grass but who cares?” he says. “The kids love it.”


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