LIHUE >> Gwen Carveiro said Lawrence was already talking about his plans for this year.
“But I guess he didn’t make it,” she said this week while being comforted by family. “Even while he was in Straub Hospital, he was inviting all the nurses to come visit Onohi Lane in Kalaheo. He was so proud that last year, he distributed more than 1,200 Tootsie Pops, and wanted to do more this year.”
Lawrence “Antone” Carveiro passed away on Aug. 6 at Straub Hospital at age 79.
Lawrence was the sole proprietor of Larry’s Reel Mower Sharpening, but he was better known as Santa Claus at Onohi “Candy Cane” Lane in Kalaheo during the Christmas season. For many years, he and his neighbors collaborated to build colorful and brightly illuminated displays for the enjoyment of hundreds of people during the festive season.
“He was a real neat person,” said George Langtad, Lawrence’s brother-in-law. “His yard and home were meticulous.”
Gwen said that’s how they realized something was wrong.
“He was out with his little stool, cutting the grass at the edge,” she said. “The next day, he complained of a backache. He was admitted to the hospital, and the next thing we know, he was being medevaced to Honolulu.”
A Celebration of Life for Lawrence is being held this weekend at Holy Cross Church in Kalaheo.
Lawrence might be gone, but Gwen said his kids will carry on the Christmas tradition with their neighbor, Juan Lorenzo.
“We weren’t expecting him to see him go, so I am still a little bit in shock,” Raven Woods, one of Lawrence’s granddaughters, wrote in an email. “Juan is going to hang a string of lights for him. I don’t know how, but we are going to try to make Christmas on Onohi Lane happen for his sake. He would have wanted it to continue.”
Lorenzo had already strung up the lights, keeping it burning since Lawrence’s passing. Gwen wiped tears from her eyes, noting that on Tuesday, the family brought Lawrence home.
“This is the original spot,” Lorenzo recalled as the LED string of lights battled with the waning rays of the sun for attention. “When we first put it up, I plugged it in, and something told me to look behind. I turned, and just like that, Larry’s string of lights came on.”
That was in 1982, following the passage of Hurricane Iwa and Lawrence’s retirement from Kauai Builders as a carpenter.
“We were talking in the middle of the road,” Lorenzo said. “Larry said, ‘We gotta celebrate; we had survive.’ We never talked about what we were going to do, but somehow, it all worked out. I thought about what to do and finally got a string of lights. Without speaking, Larry had done the same and that’s how it started. After Christmas, he looked at me and said, ‘What we going do for next year?'”
In 1992, Hurricane Iniki devastated the island, and Lawrence said “We had to put it on.”
“It was a rush,” Lorenzo said. “But the lights went on. One guy came up and complained, ‘How come it’s not on?’ Oh, it’s not plugged in.”
Lawrence retired from the County of Kauai in 1999, and the displays grew.
“The electric bill doubled,” Gwen said. “But Lawrence said it was worth it because of all the people who came to see it. There were some who gave him a hard time because it was a waste of electricity, but he told them it wasn’t for them — it was all for the kids.”
Gwen said in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, Lawrence put up his own version of the Twin Towers. The towers were replaced when he pulled out his re-bars and created the hoops, bending the bars into special receptacle holes he created in the hollow tile walls.
“We always went to The Home Depot after Christmas,” Gwen said. “Everything was marked down and we bought stuff for the following year. We went to Walmart, Kmart, too. He had to have things a particular way — even the Tootsie Pops. Not lollipops, Tootsie Pops, which he got during Halloween. He even thought of asking Walmart for a break because of how many he bought. But he never got around to it.”
In 2014, Lawrence interrupted Lorenzo who was returning home from work.
“Look at what I making,” he said. “I making one sled. We gotta light ‘um up.”
Lorenzo said they accomplished that, but Lawrence was not done, yet.
“A week later, he come over and said ‘Santa Claus sleigh get one reindeer,'” Lorenzo said. “Gwen came over and asked if I had a red light bulb for the nose. And he did it all so everything collapses and can be stored for the following year. I kept telling him that we don’t have any more room to store anything else.”
Debby Gatioan, Lawrence’s daughter, said her father touched many lives with his generosity.
“He was a great man in the many lives he touched through his generosity of putting on his light display and dressed up as Santa for the enjoyment of seeing the smiles on the faces of children,” Gatioan said. “He shared the Christmas spirit for kamaaina island-wide, and visitors, too. My father was a generous man who was loved by man. We will miss him this Christmas.”
Gwen remembers one year when an elderly gentleman, confined to a wheelchair, saw Santa and started to cry.
There was also a visitor who started Lawrence on the food drive to benefit the Kauai Independent Food Bank.
“A visitor wanted to know where the donation box was,” Gwen said. “‘Oh, just put ’em in this box.’ And then, he wanted to build a small sleigh to collect food. That first year, the collection was about 200 pounds that Kelvin Moniz, now the executive director, came to collect.”
Lorenzo said it was not all hard work. There were moments of fun.
“We had to light the last reindeer during one year,” Lorenzo said. “All of a sudden, that reindeer went more bright than anything else, and all I heard was ‘Boom!’ and everything went black. We blew the transformer. It was on a Thanksgiving Eve because people were yelling. But it was a laughing joke for the longest time — how we blew the transformer.”
The spirit of Christmas still lives at Onohi Lane where Lorenzo’s string of lights filled the darkness as the sun dipped behind the bamboo grove.
“It was only me and him at first,” Lorenzo said. “Now, everybody is joining in. It’s not dark.”