Christmas at 534 Brown Avenue
The players in my story have moved on. Orofino and the house are still there. But the Orofino and the house I'm going to tell you about - well, they're a once-upon-a-time place in my heart.
I grew up in the house at 534 Brown Avenue - the white one with the stone wall. When my dad, Vance Dobson, married my mother, Dorothy Portfors Walrath, in 1947, she was already living in the house, a widow with four children. I joined the family not many years later and by the time I was six, I was the only child left at home -- living with parents old enough to be my grandparents. But at Christmas, I was an elf living with Mr. and Mrs. Claus at the North Pole. From Thanksgiving to New Year's, wonderful things happened at our house.
Daddy, a natural musician, was artistic in many ways, and he loved to decorate for Christmas - well, he must have because he did it every year for nearly forty years - and the house, with its protected porch and square angles, offered a wonderful backdrop. He worked alone - never talked about his ideas, didn't ask for input. I don't know if he had a plan or just gathered evergreen bows, lights, and extension cords and went to work. Maybe a little of both.
Never the same twice, decorations nevertheless were based in wreaths and swags. He made every wreath and every swag from scratch. He had wreath forms large and small, and if he didn't have what he wanted, he would fashion it from wire or plywood in his shop. In the beginning he worked with strings of large colored lights typical of the '40s and '50s; the development of mini lights revolutionized his work because he could do more with more. He had a great sense of artistic balance. What happened on one side of the porch happened on the other.
Themes - sometimes he had one. One year he enlarged a silhouette of a couple riding in a horse-drawn sleigh, cut it out of plywood, and placed it on the second-story windows where he focused a spotlight on it. That was one of my personal favorites. Most often a star was placed on the upstairs windows. Sometimes a large stuffed Santa sat on the porch. The scene was never animated; hopefully it inspired the viewer's own imagination.
Mother was also creative in her own right. She took care of all inside lighting and decorating. Eventually it became tradition for her to display her crrche in the sewing room window (on D Street). One year, she fashioned pixies out of coat hangers with Styrofoam balls for heads. Then she dressed them in bright cottons, and they played over my dad's decorations on the porch.
One year - oh, I'm gonna say it was '58 or '59, my brother, Chuck Walrath, announced in early December that he would not be home for Christmas. Well, my parents were both disappointed, and my dad vowed he would not decorate that year. It was dark on the porch and a bleak spirit settled in the house, but outside the house, the community took notice. People would ask, "What's wrong? Isn't Vance going to decorate this year?" But Daddy had taken a stand - no Chuck, no decorations. Then, about December 20, Chuck called to say his plans had changed - he would be home after all. It was after supper - already dark - but my dad flew out the door without a word - organizing lights and forms for an early start the next day. Until that year, I don't think he realized the degree of community appreciation. That delay never happened again and his commitment to decorating was unconditional as the years went on. In fact, he started earlier.
by Kathy Dobson Warnock
Reprinted from 2005
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|Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544