For decades, my extended family has gathered in the charming northeast Mississippi town of Pontotoc to celebrate the Christmas season in our family home that my two sisters and I grew up in. Despite the 350 mile trek, the road to Mississippi is never a long one for me! Although both of my parents have passed away over the past 5 years, I can only imagine how delighted they would be that this past summer my older sister, Claire McGee and her husband, Bob, also a native of our town, moved back to Pontotoc after an absence of almost 40 years. My younger sister, Patti Smith and I shared their joy in moving into the family residence as they settled in and started renovations. While remarkable progress has been made over the past few months, their greatest vision, that of making it a place that we could all come “home to” has been accomplished.
My parents loved to entertain, and my Mother’s culinary talents as well as her unique and captivating floral arrangements turned our home into a spectacular haven for holidays. While I often wondered what our family gatherings would be like in my parents’ absence, my sister has done an incredible job of keeping many of our old traditions intact as well as adding a few of her own. A gifted interior designer, artist, and hostess, she created gorgeous natural arrangements throughout her home using magnolia, yew, Smilax, holly, Leucothoe, and other evergreens found on the property.
The glossy green leaves from towering, stately Magnolia trees were crafted into spectacular wreaths on the front entrance to welcome guests to a Christmas Open House celebration.
Smilax, commonly known as Jackson Vine, in the South was a favorite of my Mother’s. She even planted it in her back garden where it is still thriving today. A massive arrangement of Jackson Vine and magnolia is featured on the lamp post above. Inside, it is used to grace the foyer, the mantels and other vignettes.
The breath-taking Christmas tree, is filled with treasures collected over the years – gifts from my parents, and vintage ornaments from grandparents along with ornaments Claire has acquired through the years. Although the tree is positioned in the same place as it has been since the first Christmas we celebrated in the house many years ago, the once living room has now become the library, now with wrap around bookcases, to house their extensive book collection.
Claire reflects on her Christmas memories in Pontotoc:
“This place is so rich with memories, especially at Christmas. All the years we lived away, we celebrated Christmas here, except for the time I was expecting Robert, born on January 3! I love the continuity of Mother and Daddy’s traditions: the Christmas open house, using fresh greens from the yard, the stockings, the recipes. I even found Mother’s red bows in the attic for the front porch.
Our tree is a hodge podge. We have ornaments from grandparents’ trees, ornaments made by our children when they were small, ornaments that were gifts, ornaments from our childhood trees.
Mother planted the Jackson Vine I used. She would have LOVED the berries!”
My Mother loved to give ornaments each year to us three girls. The Radko ornament, pictured below, is a favorite of mine.
Each of the four grandchildren has identical stockings needle pointed with a nativity scene. The stockings of my niece and nephew are shown below.
Beautifully displayed on vintage cake pedestals, Claire’s collection of Margaret Furlong sea inspired porcelain angels were also used frequently by my Mother on her dining room table during the holidays. The delicate berries of the Smilax provide a perfect balance with the angels.
Below, a custom designed Santa made of fabric from a dress of my sister’s from the 70’s and a gift from my Mother to her, is displayed on a stand in the dining room.
Nature inspired arrangements throughout the family room and kitchen reflect the beauty of the season.
Even the terrace captures seasonal grandeur.
A familiar scene of getting the “perfect” picture for a Christmas greeting card..
A happy gathering with all of the grandchildren in 2008 . . .
I can only imagine how pleased my parents would be that our family home is again filled with the gifts of Christmas year round, and that a new generation will be making memories here…
Years ago Claire translated Isaiah 9:6-7 into a pair of matching masterpieces that Mother hung each Christmas in the living room, but have a new home in the foyer. One is done in the original Latin while the other is done in English.
For the certainty of Your birth, and therefore our rebirth, we give You praise. Merry Christmas!