Fireplace decorating sparks festive memories with toys and trinkets

#572 in a series of true experiences in real estate
December 2008, Hills Newspapers

Not every year, but some years at Christmas, I decorate the fireplace mantel with toys and I have a wonderful time doing it. The contents vary each year depending on what looks good to me and how much time I devote to looking around the house for things to add. I started the first mantel because I realized that I’d kept quite a few of my kids’ toys that I found especially appealing and I thought it would be fun to get them out and look at them.

I also have toys of my own, some that I collected simply because I liked them and some that I brought home from my mother’s lower-grades teaching days. In fact, there are far too many items for my Christmas display; there is only space for so many.

Once I bought a Fisher-Price firehouse at a second-hand store. Probably my excuse was that my son was a little boy then who liked fire engines but it is also possible that he had already grown up and I bought it anyway. The firehouse has a roll-up door and 2 engines inside, one with a fireman driver. One year I used that firehouse as the main piece in my mantel scene. Across the width I also placed lights and 3 fake trees, all the same all-green type but in different sizes.

This year I started my scene with a dozen trees, some snow-covered but some not, taller trees and short ones, and went from there. I added a tall sleek-fabric Spider-man doll that I could not resist in a store not long ago. He’s about a foot tall. And I placed next to him a smaller Batman and Wonder Woman and a tiny Robin. Particularly eye-catching is a tall Luke Skywalker carrying Yoda on his back.

I hung an old-fashioned bristle-needle wreath from the bricks and added a painted sign saying Happy Christmas. It needed more so I got out my daughter’s Polly Pocket dolls that I’ve kept. One is a wedding scene in a plastic compact. Bride and groom and even a bridesmaid inside the “church.” The other Polly Pocket toy is a castle with turrets and flags on top. The castle opens lengthwise revealing rooms on 2 floors with a few hinged compartments and there is a tiny Princess Polly. I am so glad that I saved these because the newer “Polly’s” are not nearly as well detailed and cute, and they are disappointingly larger.

Now I added little ceramic houses that my mom bought during a visit to England in the 1980s. They are about 4-inches tall and each represents a typical old British house style such as Tudor half-timbering. And next to the houses I put an old (probably from the 1950s) celluloid Santa and sleigh with his 6 reindeer. The original Santa is missing but I substituted another and added a bag of teeny toys.

Now, isn’t this fun? I was putting this mantel together over a couple of days. I’d put a few things up, then stand back to look, remove some, add a few others. The next day I’d do the same. More items: Candles, both real and battery-operated, a short Cookie Monster, Clark Kent figure with his Superman cape in a backpack, a snow globe with a very darling cabin inside that I got by sending in money to Log Cabin Syrup and a metal 5-car-long Tootsie train that a teacher friend gave me when she retired.

I wanted to add a baby Jesus and I remembered that our tree man had kindly brought me a hummingbird’s nest still attached to a thin branch. I propped it up and put a little naked pink doll inside the nest and stood a few tiny wooden animals nearby.

I tried out many other items before adding papier-mache snowman figure with a big round middle and a very-red paper pomegranate of equal girth. But I put away most of the people figures, even the old Fisher-Price family, a favorite, for another year.

A friend my daughter’s age (early twenties) came by to visit and stood warming herself by the fire as she looked at the mantel. I think she was somewhat surprised. She thought that some of the items must be quite old. I said that the Tootsie train was pretty old but not the other items, then realized old to me is different than old to someone her age.

Then my visitor said, “My grandma lays out her mantel every Christmas, too, but hers is really serious.”

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