Holiday treasures: Christmas collection tells family’s story

A farm table on the back porch is flanked by a mix and match set of chairs –  a couple from each dining set the family has ever owned. (Makenzie Evans photo)

Christmastime is upon us. If you had asked me back when I was a youngster, what was the best part of Christmas, I probably would have said it was the anticipation of what surprises await in sparkly packages under the tree. When I grew up and had kids of my own, I might have said that it was all about the joy of giving, and the Christmas morning delight of the little ones. Today, I am most excited about sharing the holiday with friends and family. The occasions are starting to be more about tradition. Objects like old nativity sets and special Christmas ornaments are becoming placeholders for warm memories of Christmas past. Those memories and the trinkets and treasures that evoke those memories have become much more valuable to me than the presents under the tree. 

Gloria Cheshier and Joe Forrester will celebrate their 43rd year of marriage this Christmas season. They were married outside, in December, at the end of an allée of tall pines at Joe’s family home in East Texas. 

Just after the wedding, one of the pines fell victim to the wind and Gloria salvaged a “slice” of the tree. On the tree the words were written “1977, The tree we were married under.” The tree slice became an ornament on their first Christmas tree.

Every year thereafter, they kept a slice of the trunk of each Christmas tree, inscribed with “important” events of the year, like new houses and jobs to first girlfriends and getting braces off. This year, the tree slices are displayed on the fireplace hearth in a silver bowl, a rustic chronicle of the significant events of their lives.

Gloria and Joe settled in Conway at their home in The Village at Hendrix in an attempt at retirement, which took a few more tries than they were anticipating. “We had great experiences moving around the country, following Joe’s community college career,” said Gloria. “When it came time for retirement, I think we’ve always had this unwritten ‘pact’ that we would come home to Arkansas.”

Gloria is a seventh generation Arkansan and Joe is Texas born and bred. “I think it was our combined ‘life experiences’ that brought us to The Village at Hendrix,” said Gloria. “Our last two homes were historic homes that we’d renovated in neighborhoods with porches and sidewalks where people gathered, walked to dinner, shared garden vegetables, knew one another and offered help when needed. More than anything, we wanted to maintain that sense of community in our new place.”

A family member tipped them off about The Village along with a reported sighting of two neighbors chatting over a garden fence, and that was all it took to prompt a visit to Conway. “We are thankful that life brought us here.” Gloria said. “There’s a great comfort in having ‘instant community’ and knowing who lives in every house in the neighborhood. To some, living close might seem intrusive, but it’s not. It’s heart-warming. If it sounds kind of like Mayberry, it is.”

The neighborhood likes to throw a party at the drop of a hat; anything from Hendrix football tailgating to the Kentucky Derby, so you can imagine that they take it over the top for Christmas. The streets and homes in the village are decked out in holiday finery and are alive all season with celebrations from a cookie exchange and caroling to a community open house where the hot chocolate flows.

Joe and Gloria’s home is warm and inviting. During the holidays, it is filled with a curated collection of Christmas treasures. The well-appointed kitchen is adorned with glass containers of all shapes and sizes that are filled with sparkling balls in a shimmering kaleidoscope of colors. It is not just a treat to the eye. These are treasured vintage Shiny-Brite brand ornaments handed down and collected over the years.

“At first, I inherited a few from Joe’s mother, and then a few more from my grandmother,” said Gloria. She recalls a story of her trying to eat one of the shiny balls when she was a baby and a time in 1962 when she was tasked with riding in the back of a truck, holding a new aluminum tree with the aqua blue ornaments because it was decorated at the store and her father didn’t want to ‘undecorate’ it for the trip home.

On the wall in the kitchen is a framed handwritten note, and beneath the note on a peg hangs a rusty sausage can with the bottom cut out. The note was from Gloria’s grandmother telling the story of the old can which she had used to make biscuits for 36 years. It was semi-retired in 1985 but Gloria still brings out the makeshift cutter during the holidays and on special occasions to make biscuits. Hanging beside it is a wooden rolling pin made by Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather.

An antique farm table had traveled with them in pieces from home to home until they finally had a place for it on the back porch. It is surrounded by what Gloria calls “the chairs of our lives” – a couple from each dining set they have had over 45 years. “Don’t ask!” said Gloria. “I don’t know how I ended up with a pair of chairs from every set, but here they are.”

The Christmas tree is overflowing with ornaments collected and traded over the years. There’s a little wooden dog hand painted by their son when he was 6 and decorations collected on their travels. It is topped with a hand-sewn angel made by Gloria’s mother.

Every piece – from childhood stockings on the mantle and an old lighted Santa from the grandparents and of course the tree slices – help tell the story of Gloria and Joe’s Christmases past.

Donna Benton
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