Go ahead and ring those bells!


Whenever I hear those old sleigh bells, I know it’s officially the holiday season.

It’s not hyperbole in describing those silver bells as old either. My wife’s grandfather used them on his horse-drawn sleigh. Their pleasing tinkle, tinkle, tinkle conjures up all that’s good and joyous about Christmastime. Visions of Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer team pulling jolly Old Saint Nick in his gift-laden sleigh danced in my head.

That enchanting tinkling sound returns every year as Neva gets the urge to decorate the house inside and out for the holidays. That usually happens on a whim, based on our busy schedules and the weather forecast. This year it was a few days before Thanksgiving.

The jingling of the bells is her unintentional announcement that the holiday display initiative has begun. Neva often completes the jolly decorating on her own, whether I’m home or not.

The sound of the bells, however, drew me away from a writing malaise to join in the fun. With the late November weather sunny and warmish, Neva already had the exterior decorating underway.

We had earlier agreed to simplify both the outdoor and indoor displays. Even then, our previous ones were modest by comparison.

Out came holiday quilted wall hangings, seasonal books, and Christmas candles. Up went the artificial holly wreaths and our late friend Helen’s ceramic Christmas tree upon her antique oak end table. The tree’s red lights stay continuously lit against its shiny green bows all tipped with white for snow.

With each completed display, the memories flowed. Barn wood-framed antique Christmas postcards hang near the front door, welcoming all for the holidays. My late father made the frame years ago.

No room goes untouched with Neva’s artistry. A rustic steel nativity scene adorns her grandmother’s china closet.

Dashes of snipped holly and boxwood grace the front porch and family room. A garland of shiny red beads and artificial greenery accompany the sleigh bells that surround the table lamp in the front window. It’s only appropriate that that string of bells take center stage.

Holiday candles and soap caddies gussied up the bathrooms. In the dining area, Christmas tree knickknacks serve as bookends to the candy dish, where red and white peppermint candies tempt me from atop the antique dry sink.

Salt and pepper shakers disguised as Mr. and Mrs. Snowman oversee the kitchen. Holly stenciled water glasses, festively decorated serving bowls, and platters all wait their turn in the cupboards to serve their cheerful purposes.

Neva already had completed most of this by the time the sleigh bells rang. I arrived in time to decorate the tall and skinny artificial Charlie Brown Christmas tree sequestered in the corner of the open spaced living area.

I enjoyed hanging an assortment of ornaments that represent nearly every year of our togetherness. Neva completed the adorning with thin, red-striped candy canes, also an annual tradition.

Next to the tree, strings of little white lights tactfully wind through stacked books resting on the wooden bench a friend had restored. Strings of green garland and white lights and Christmas tchotchke brightened both the back porch and the utility room.

I can’t overlook the subtle but most prominent and meaningful holiday symbol of all. By night, little battery-powered candles flicker from the windowsills. Their glow is small, but mighty, brightening the darkest December nights and the starriest.

That evening I took my tea in an oversized holiday mug. It’s hand-painted smiling snowman enjoyed every sip right along with me.

When it comes to Christmas, our welcome sign is out. My wife always makes sure of that.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Sue Pyle just wanted to help

Sue Pyle by Bruce Stambaugh
Sue Pyle, of Strongsville, Ohio checked out some of the many items she donated to Save & Serve Thrift Shop for its Christmas Open House.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sue Pyle wanted to downsize from her home in Strongsville, Ohio to a smaller place. That meant doing away with some of her most valuable treasures, her many Christmas tree displays.

For the past 26 years, Pyle has filled her house with the trees, each with its own separate theme. Year after year, she opened her house to many an admirer.

Pyle’s trees came in all sizes. She decorated as many as 32 trees. Some were half-trees that hung on the wall while others were miniature trees. Of course, she had a traditional Christmas tree, too.

The trees and ornaments took up a lot of storage space when not used. Though she hated to do it, Pyle knew in downsizing she had to dispense of much of her holiday decorating tradition.

Friends encouraged her to sell the decorations, some of which she had had for years. Others told her to hold a garage sale. But neither is what Pyle had in mind.

Instead, Pyle remembered what some friends had told her about the annual Christmas Open House held at Save & Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. She had visited the store, learned of its mission, where the profits went, and made up her mind to donate her Christmas collection to Save & Serve, even though it was an hour away from her home.

“I know that all the money made from selling my items will go directly to help people,” Pyle said. “That’s what I wanted because I like their global mission.”

In total, all of Pyle’s seasonal decorations filled a 16-foot box truck and a van. It was probably the largest seasonally specific donation of it’s kind, according to Eric Raber, co-manager at Save & Serve.

“We once had a pick up load arrive from Chicago for the same reason,” Raber said. “But this was definitely the largest donation specifically for decorating.”

In addition to her Christmas items, Pyle also donated fall and other holiday decorations. Raber said the donations from Pyle helped make the Christmas Open House a huge success. The event was held Oct. 25-27.

“We sold 2,000 items the first day alone,” Raber said.

Curious as to how things would be displayed, Pyle visited Save & Serve the first day of the Christmas Open House sale.

“I was impressed with how they had everything displayed,” Pyle said. “They did an excellent job, and they were great to work with.”

Raber praised the seven volunteers who spent many hours organizing and creating the festive Christmas arrangements. He said many of the items were from Pyle’s donations.

“It was the eye of those who created the displays that made them so attractive and presentable for customers,” Raber said. “Those creative gifts made the open house the success that it was.”

“I really enjoyed visiting the store,” said Marilyn Howarth, a friend of Pyle’s who tagged along on the trip from the Cleveland area. “Everything was displayed so nice.”

Raber said this was the third year for the Christmas Open House, and the most successful. He said sales from the first day of the open house were the best since the opening day at Save & Serve’s South Washington Street location.

“Sue’s generosity was wonderful,” Raber said. “We value the intent of the donor.”

Raber said Save & Serve appreciates the generosity of all those who donate merchandise, as well as the generosity of time by the many volunteers who sort through the donations.

“Giving develops through relationships,” Raber said citing Pyle as an example. “It’s people connecting with people.”

Pyle, a retired elementary teacher, said she started her collections from the gifts given to her by students.

“It started with the giraffe collection,” she said. “I expanded my collections with spur-of-the-moment purchases.”

Some of her themes included a hunt tree, a kitchen tree, little books and a bear tree. She even had a Lakeside, Ohio tree, a place where she vacations annually.

Pyle’s generosity wasn’t just aimed at Save & Serve. In 2001, Pyle began creating a themed tree that she donated to the Akron Children’s Hospital’s Holiday Tree Festival. The trees are purchased with the proceeds going to the hospital.

“This year I am doing a Merry Mickey Christmas tree,” Pyle said.

Like the many shoppers at Save & Serve, whoever buys that tree will have their holidays enhanced thanks to Sue Pyle.