Shirley Skeen goes out of her way to drive by Melissa Hofer's home. The two Layton women aren't friends -- they don't even know each other.
"I don't know her name," Skeen said. "I call her the 'Flamingo Lady.' "
Hofer has a small flock of pink plastic flamingos that she decorates for various holidays. The flamingos are currently part of a Christmas nativity scene, costumed as the three wise men. Last month, they were dressed as pilgrims, surrounding a table with a Thanksgiving feast. They have also been made up as a witch doctor and witches for Halloween, as Easter bunnies, and as pioneers pulling handcarts for July 24.
They've even been set in party scenes, dressed in grass skirts and leis for a luau, and with shiny hats and ice buckets on their heads for New Year's Eve.
"In June, she has them dressed as a bridal couple," said Skeen. "She has such clever ideas."
Those clever ideas were inspired by frugality.
When Hofer and her family moved into their house in Layton, at 948 N. Church St., they didn't have a lot of money to spend on the yard.
"I got really frustrated. It seemed like every time I bought a new garden thing, or decoration, the next year some neater thing had come out. I'd buy a nativity scene, and the next year there was some fantastic gilded nativity," she said. "I decided I wasn't going to try to keep up with the Joneses anymore."
She chose, instead, to focus on flamingos.
"I guess the flamingos are one way she shows how fun she is," said neighbor Mary McCashland, adding that Hofer has a doctorate degree and a very serious job as a pharmacist.
Hofer agrees that her holiday decorations may seem uncharacteristic, but the "Flamingo Lady" says her choice to decorate with birds is similar to "Warning: When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple," a poem in which the subject decides she'll do the fun things she wants to do when she's older, to make up for the sobriety of her youth.
"I'd come to a point in life that I decided I'm going to put pink flamingos in the yard," said Hofer.
Setting the scene
The first set of flamingos came from a mail-order company, and included half a dozen holiday outfits.
"I started adding my own clothes and accessories later," Hofer said.
McCashland lives across the street from Hofer and her flock of flamingos.
"I check them out every day, from my bedroom window," she said. "I don't know how she finds the little outfits she puts on them. ... I know she probably sews a little bit of them herself, but I can't imagine she has time to sew very many."
Hofer says she does sew some of the flamingo outfits.
"In addition to those costumes, I figured out that I could take sheets of foam and make costumes out of it, and hot glue it on them," she said. The glue is easily popped off when it's time for a change.
Hofer has her own rules about creating holiday scenes around her flamingos.
"I try to match their material and style when I do scenes and accessories," she said. "A cheap plastic nativity from Walmart is preferable to a fancy one from Frontgate. A plastic heron makes a better fishing buddy than a brass one."
Other birds, like the heron, often join the flamingos.
"I enjoy backyard birding and feed the wild birds, so I try to put a visitor bird in the settings when I can," she said.
A turkey dropped in for Thanksgiving, and doves were part of the wedding scene, penguins visited in January, and ducks in April.
Hofer's 15-year-old daughter, Maren Hofer, helps design some of the holiday vignettes.
"Honestly, I didn't really think we were going to be doing it as long as we have been. I thought we'd do it a few times and get tired of it, but it's still going on," Maren Hofer said.
It's been six or seven years now, but the teen says she still likes the flamingos.
"They're really fun. My classmates really like them," she said. The Christmas and wedding scenes are her favorites.
Friends and strangers have been very supportive of Hofer's flamingo fun.
"I had a school bus driver stop, with the kids, and tell me how much the kids like flamingos," she said. "Several people have told me they drive by on purpose to see them."
Skeen says she's disappointed when she drives by Hofer's house and doesn't see a holiday display, but it makes her day when the flamingos are out.
"I've been known to stop in front of her house, get out and take a picture or two," Skeen said.
McCashland says she just loves Hofer's holiday scenes.
"I'm always excited, at the beginning of every month, to look out and see 'What did she do this time?' McCashland said. "Every month I think, 'This one's the best she's ever done.' "
Hofer says she's received anonymous Christmas cards from fans, and more.
"I found a handful of tiny plastic flamingos in my front flower planters once, which I took as a sign of flamingo solidarity," she said.