Danielle Marks thought the power was out in her Coral Springs neighborhood Wednesday night when she spotted so many Florida Power & Light trucks on the way home.
There was certainly no shortage of power when she pulled into her driveway. Her home looked like a winter wonderland with a blow-up reindeer, flashing lollipop lights and snow flakes on the roof.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Marks, fighting back tears as she stared in awe at the more than 2,500 lights and the huge yellow ribbons on the sides of her garage . “It’s amazing.”
The pre-holiday surprise – tied to Monday’s Veteran’s Day holiday – was a treat cooked up by her husband, US Army Pfc. Seth Marks for her and the couple’s three children.
Seth Marks is set to leave Thursday morning on a 400-day deployment to Afghanistan and wanted to do something special for his family before he left.
“I know the holidays are going to be tough without me here,” he said. “This will make it a little easier.”
He called FPL, which for the last five years, has surprised military families with a holiday extravaganza, and worked up a plan to have his house decorated so he can leave knowing there was one less thing his wife had to do.
“This is more than I could have asked for,” said the soldier, donning his army gear. “To see them so excited is indescribable.”
Nearly two dozen FPL elves worked for several hours Wednesday, with help of bucket trucks, to prepare for the surprise. When the family arrived homes, the volunteers and several Coral Springs city leaders cheered for the family.
“It’s what the season is all about,” said Coral Springs Vice Mayor Tom Powers.
The Marks’ three children couldn’t stop smiling as they observed the holiday decorations in the yard.
“Look mommy! We have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” said Dominic Marks, 11, as he ran around exploring.
Phoenix Marks, 8, said they have never had so many lights.
“Can we keep them until daddy comes home?” she asked.
The mailbox, wrapped with red ribbon and a wreath, was Danielle Marks’ favorite.
“My mailbox has never looked that good,” she said.
For the last three years, around Thanksgiving, the family would fish out lights and decorations from a storage unit to prepare for the Christmas season.
At the beginning of December, they would begin their hunt for the perfect tree.
“It’s a painstaking process,” Seth Marks said. Decorating the tree is the fun part with the kids playing a game of rock, paper scissors to see who gets to put the star on top.
Marks then spends Christmas eve in the backyard installing “a big gift.” Or putting something together in the garage. Last year it was a playground in the backyard.
By Christmas morning, Marks is usually up early making eggs, pancakes – anything the kids asked for the night before. He said he usually makes way more than the family of five needs.
This year is going to be different. He will be somewhere in Afghanistan – something he spent months training for – with the 388th Clearance Company as a combat engineer.
Marks always knew he wanted to defend his country. But he put it off when he graduated from high school.
“It was something always in the back of my mind,’” he said. “I want to show my kids that it’s never too late to do something.”
He enrolled in Florida International University to study engineering, switched to automotive mechanic and began working for different dealerships.
At age 31, with the support of his wife, an Air Force veteran, he decided to enlist. He began basic training and was able to come home and work his normal job. Then he got news of his first deployment.
“I am very excited to have this experience, but at the same time I am sad I am going to miss out on a lot of things,” he said.
He had heard about FPL’s lights program a few years ago, and thought it would be nice to surprise his wife and kids. He made the call.
FPL spokeswoman Heather Kirkendall said the company had never done it with the soldier’s help. Usually, FPL works with the family to surprise a returning soldier.
Marks wanted to be a part of the surprise.
“His story really struck a chord for us,” she said.
He will miss his third anniversary on St Patrick’s day. He will miss seeing his daughter turn 10 in December and his sons having their birthdays next year.
But being able to give them an early holiday surprise is something that he will keep him going while he is overseas.
“For them this is a reminder that I am still here,” he said. “And for me, it’s the memory of seeing them this happy that will keep me going.”