Too many ornaments? No way, couple says

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NATCHEZ — After making a list of all the Christmas ornaments they own, Betty Jeane and Pete Smith had an important call to make — to their insurance provider.

The couple has a collection Hallmark ornaments that numbers in the hundreds, several of which are worth several hundreds of dollars each.

“We didn’t realize how much they were worth until I started putting them on paper,” Betty Jeane said. “We put an alarm on the house and put them on the insurance for that reason.”

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The Smiths’ purchased their first ornament, a fabric snowman, in 1977, and the collection really started to grow in the 1980s when Betty Jeane got addicted. The most she has ever paid for an ornament is $25, though, she said.

“I’ve always liked Christmas,” she said. “But I never thought it would grow to be this large.”

The collection is displayed each year on six trees placed around the couple’s Natchez house. One tree is dedicated to Santa Claus ornaments, another is covered with boy-themed ornaments and a third is decorated with girl ornaments. Trees four and five are decorated with lighted ornaments and snowmen.

The largest tree is adorned with the remaining ornaments including characters, birds, castles, trucks, crayon boxes, hearts, nutcrackers and others.

The collection has gotten so large the Smith’s stopped buying ornaments six years ago. But that hiatus might not last much longer.

“The lighted ornament tree is new this year,” Betty Jeane said. “I may have to buy some more for that one. This year I had to rob some other trees to cover it.”

That might have been news to Pete.

“Uh oh,” he said.

Betty Jeane just laughed.

“Christmas is her thing,” Pete said. “I think her father was happy we got married in November so he didn’t have to go Christmas tree hunting with her.”

Betty Jeane is particularly fond of the Keepsake Ornaments that are produced in a series. If she gets one, she likes to have them all, she said.

“I have a series of rocking horses and I have all of them except one, the first one,” she said. “I had them all, but the first one got thrown away in a tree when we had real trees.”

The trees begin being assembled before Thanksgiving and stay up until mid to late January.

Each ornament is hung on the tree using ribbon because “the metal hangers get tangled up too easily,” Betty Jeane said.

All the trees except one rotate, a big benefit when it comes time to decorate.

“She can sit there and decorate as the tree goes around and stop it when she needs to because she is right by the switch,” Pete said. “When she decorates as far as she can reach, I get the ladder and do the rest. She operates the switch while I hang the ornaments.”

This year the couple’s neighbor Katie Cloy helped put the ornaments on the tree.

“She comes over here every day to check on Mrs. Betty Jeane,” Betty Jeane said. “She really loved helping with the trees.”

When it comes time to take the ornaments down, the Smiths have a system — bubble wrap, ornaments, bubble wrap, ornaments.

“If its porcelain, I’ll wrap it in bubble wrap too,” Betty Jeane said. “I have all the original boxes, but have never put them back in there.”

All the decorations aren’t on trees, either. Approximately 30 Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles hang around the house each Christmas season.

“That’s her thing, too,” Pete said.

But Betty Jeane said Pete plays an important role in that too.

“He brings me coffee,” she said.

Betty Jeane isn’t the only one who loves the ornament and puzzle collections. The couple’s two children and their grandchildren have claimed some for themselves.

“They’ll write their names on the backs of the puzzles or on the ornaments and we never know until we go to take them down,” Pete said.