The 200-pound piece of pumpkin pie, complete with an enormous dollop of whipped cream, might make your tummy rumble, but the adjacent 12-foot-tall handwritten letter will bring tears to your eyes.
The letter, propped in the front lawn of a home in the 1300 block of Broadmoor Drive in Northeast Austin’s Windsor Park neighborhood, is written from a mom to her son, Bobby, thanking him for helping her through her battle with cancer.
"I’ve tried so hard to find the words to tell you how wise I think you are. I need to share some great news with you. How do you tell a boy who is your baby that he is your hero? I realize it’s not through words at all. I just bought the ingredients to make the pies you’ve been wanting to make together to share with strangers. … Let’s go share our happiness with the world."
Since it appeared Dec. 12, the large-scale holiday display has been drawing dozens of visitors a day who congregate in the yard to snap photos of the pie, contemplate the deeper meaning of the letter and write their own emotional notes to Bobby to drop in the on-site mailbox.
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and am now cancer free after treatment and surgery. I plan to bake to share also. Thank you for making me smile," says one of the response letters from the mailbox.
"This made my day. Made me cry, but a happy cry," says another.
The letter itself is fictitious, said Caro d’Offay, who constructed the display in her front yard along with her partners, Marj Wormald and Laura Gilmore, but serves as a tribute of sorts to her own mom, who died of cancer in 2003. The display was unveiled Dec. 12 because that was her mother’s birthday.
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"When you lose a parent, it never goes away; that pain is always there. But the one beauty about grief is that sometimes when you experience grief it takes you back and reconnects you to that person you lost. Through that pain, you find that connection," d’Offay said. "People tell me, ‘You helped me reconnect with someone I thought I’d lost forever.’ There is nothing more special."
D’Offay and her partners have been creating giant displays each December for the past eight years, all revolving around a little boy named Bobby, that are intended to make people think and to remind them of their shared humanity. Past letters have focused on topics such as bullying, homelessness and loneliness over the holidays.
"The project has become a huge surprise to us and to the community that we have found ourselves a part of. Every person who approaches it is surprised by their own response. I think the beauty of being human is when you’re surprised by yourself," d’Offay said. "That’s where transformation and growth and happiness occurs. It’s no longer ours. It’s taken on a life of its own. And it’s serving this purpose of just surprising people with their own goodness."
Wormald agreed, adding that people regularly approach her when she’s outside to thank her for the display, which the team worked on all year. She said the letter’s messaging was intended to create bonds between families.
"People within their own family get to a point where they’re like, ‘We don’t have anything in common.’ But if they come together, get out of their car, stand in our front yard and read the letter, they realize, ‘Wow, we are all in this human family together.’ We can all agree on the importance of love or the importance of giving to other people or the importance of sharing. Even neighbors, they’re walking down the street and someone else drives by, and it’s no one they would ever talk to in their life, but they end up having a conversation with each other. It makes all these little heartstring connections between people."
So is anyone disappointed that Bobby doesn’t actually exist?
"People do ask, and you can see this moment of disappointment before they’re even more intrigued. There’s this moment of, ‘Oh, no, he’s fake!’ And then they’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what does that mean? Where is this going? How fictional can this get?’ " d’Offay said. "They get excited when they realize it’s an endless story, and they feel really excited after that microsecond of letdown."
D’Offay said people can read all of the previous letters at giantletter.com and follow along with this year’s adventures on Instagram @giantletter. Mostly, though, she hopes people will come out in person to see the display, which will be up through Jan. 11.
"With the responsibilities of every day, you have to tuck your heart away and protect it. There’s no space to really feel yourself and be in the moment. This project hits you," d’Offay said. "It’s not a punch, but it hits you and it draws you into the moment, and for that moment you’re connecting with things that you’ve spent your whole life trying to avoid. In that moment, you realize you wanted to connect with it."