By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Reader Note: To see slideshow by C. Todd Sherman click view slideshow link under photo to the left.
OLIVE BRANCH – There are really no words to describe the home of Gladys and Dave Fleming at Christmas. You just have to see it to believe it.
Every single room, every shelf, every wall, every door, every floor, every inch of the 6,400-square-foot house is decorated from top to bottom with everything Christmas.
There are 41 trees – and those are just the ones that are 3 feet tall or bigger. Dozens of smaller trees are also scattered throughout. There is a life-size Santa in the living room and a 6-foot-tall Nutcracker in a sitting room off the master bedroom. One clawfoot bathtub is filled with clear glass ornaments and Frosty the Snowman resides in another bathroom’s shower.
“We tell people, ‘If you like it, we did it. And if you don’t like it, we still did it,’” said Gladys, 74.
The couple, who moved to Olive Branch in 1996, began to decorate their home and open it to neighbors at Christmastime when they lived in Texas.
“We invited everybody on the street to come to our house,” Gladys said. “We were younger than they were – probably in our 40s – and we realized how important this was to senior adults. That’s why we do this – for senior adults. Some of them are alone or they’ve downsized and they don’t or can’t decorate anymore. For some seniors, this is the only Christmas they have.”
But the Olive Branch home isn’t limited to seniors. Kids come through on open house days, too, with their mouths hanging wide open.
“Parents come in with young children and they tell them, ‘Don’t touch.’ And we say, ‘No, we want them to touch.’ We love sharing,” Gladys said.
The Flemings begin their Christmas decorating on Nov. 1, right after they’ve taken down the fall and Halloween trappings. And they do every bit of it themselves.
“I tell people I bring it and she puts it,” said Dave, 79. “And she’s a good put-er.”
The couple’s many collectibles adorn china cabinets, curio cabinets, table tops, mantels, bannisters, dressers, chandeliers, beds, bathtubs, showers and walls. Names include Christopher Radko, Hallmark, Fitz and Floyd, Mark Roberts, DeBrekht, Waterford, Precious Moments, Dept. 56, Penny McAllister and Annalee.
“We tell everybody to look up and look down and look all around or they’ll miss something,” Dave said. “The most used word I hear when people come through is ‘unbelievable.’”
House is a ministry
So far, about 1,000 people have come through the Flemings’ home this year on open house days. The next two are scheduled for Dec. 20 and 22 from 2 to 5 p.m. There is no charge, but a $5 donation is requested per person. All proceeds go to First Baptist Church in Olive Branch.
“It really is a ministry to older people,” Gladys said. “I want people’s minds and bodies to be stimulated. We had 175 to 200 people in here all at once last Sunday and it sounded like a hive of bees.”
The Flemings said they’ve had visitors from Tupelo to Jackson, from Oxford to Starkville, from the Memphis area, and even Dalton, Ga.
“There’s very few times that Dave and I go out that someone doesn’t stop us and say, ‘I don’t remember your name, but I’ve been to your house,’” Gladys said.
The Flemings take down all their “normal” home decor and stow it away when the first of November rolls around. Then out comes holiday bedspreads, pillows, rugs, six sets of holiday china, wreaths, firescreens, and more than 100 Christmas pictures, counted cross-stitch portraits and framed jigsaw puzzles, plus thousands of ornaments, wind-up toys and figurines.
“Somebody once asked me, ‘When do you stop decorating?’ And I say, “I’ve been known to go out the day after Christmas and buy stuff and come home and decorate with it.’”
On Christmas Eve, the Flemings will keep with tradition and spend the night not in their master bedroom, but in Gladys’ favorite room – the Night Before Christmas Room – on the second floor. It’s a child’s dream – Peanuts characters, bears that sing, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, trees decorated with animal ornaments, and lots and lots of red.
“When I wake up on Christmas morning, I want to see all of this stuff,” Gladys said. “It’s not always fun being an adult – it’s nice sometimes to revert back to childhood. We’re going to grow up – someday.”
By the time the end of January rolls around, everything will be packed back up and stored in 2,000-square-feet of attic space, closets and cabinets.
“We store some trees in boxes, some in bags and some we fold under the staircase,” Gladys said. “We joke that if we ever have a tornado, the house will be gone and we’ll be blown away, but all the trees will be safe under the staircase.”
What: Open house at the Flemings.
When: Dec. 20 and 22, from 2 to 5 p.m.
Where: 8384 Dunleith Cove, Olive Branch.
Directions: From Highway 78, take the Olive Branch/Independence exit and take a right, heading toward Olive Branch on Highway 305 for a couple of miles. Go under the overpass. Pass Temple Baptist Church on the right and turn right into Plantation subdivision, just before the railroad tracks. Go through the stop sign and turn left onto Dunleith. The Fleming house is pink brick with big columns and a Nativity scene in front.
Cost: A $5 donation is requested. All proceeds go to First Baptist Church in Olive Branch.
Info: (662) 895-9595.