Every one of the Christmas decorations that fill Darrell and Sheila Thomas’s Kalama home fit in the context of their family history.
The Santa collection and the house collection tell stories all their own.
The 1950s sled on the front porch, decked out with evergreen and a bow, is not from an antique shop — it actually zoomed down the rolling hills on these acres high above the Columbia River.
Sheila’s Madame Alexander dolls, as crisp and new as their heyday in the 1940s and ’50s, survived not just time, but a family crisis.
But you can see for yourself.
The Thomases and three other households will welcome guests Thursday during the Kalama Tour of Homes.
Kalama’s tour, sponsored by Amalak women’s club, relies on shuttle vehicles that leave from the Hendrickson Mall. Visitors can relax while they are ferried into the hills around the town.
Old treasures, new life
A glimpse of the Thomas house gives away none of its history.
Sheila was raised in Kalama but moved to California with Darrell. When the couple returned to Kalama in 1980, Sheila’s parents, David and Edith Martin, gave them five of her 26 acres.
“My uncle Mac and cousin Tim Poulsen built our new house on the crest of the hill,” Sheila explained.
“In 1986, a fire totally destroyed our new home. We built it back with a few moderate changes and moved back in May of 1987.”
The second time around, again, “was truly a family project,” she said. “This time my cousin Tim was the carpenter, Uncle Mac was the finish carpenter, cousin Pete Poulsen was the tile guy, and Darrell was the plumber and overall handy guy.
“I painted the interior and we hired most of the 1986 Kalama football team to paint the exterior. They worked for cash and all the food they could eat!”
The two chapters of the place must have been meant to be — the reincarnarted house could not be more cozy, nor more lovely.
Last week, Darrell was “vacuuming” one of the two fresh evergreens that will stand in the living room and upstairs family room.
Sheila had already decorated just about every nook in the house: the utility room “cookie baking scene,” the snowman bedroom, the red-and-white kitchen nook where tablecloth, candles, flowers, and dishes are share that color scheme, including a covered butter dish with a red cardinal on top.
The more formal dining table is set with the Spode Christmas tree china that family members have gifted over the years.
“It really helps to have a December birthday,” Sheila said. Ideas for presents were always easy, swelling her holiday collections.
“My mother started it,” said Sheila of Edith, now 96, who lives just down the hill.
Not only did Edith suggest the Santa idea 30 years ago, but she brought back wonderful additions from her travels. “My mother loves to look for things.”
Her detailed fascimilies of famous churches and Victorian houses are ironically manufactured under the brand name “Sheila.”
Once, Sheila said, her mother found shelves that hold some of the beloved two-dimensional houses — at a garage sale. “They were built expressly for that purpose.”
She also has little trees set here and there, each with a theme. Look for trees decorated with Darrell’s favorite pastimes — a fishing tree, and one dedicated to the Oregon Ducks.
As for the Santas, it’s fun to spy them. “They’re just all over the house,” Sheila said.
There are Scottish Santas, including one who holds high an ornament of a Santa head. “The kids call him ‘the executioner,’ ” Sheila said.
A Santa from Hawaii wears a lei, grass skirt and flip-flops. And a French (begin ital) Pere Noel (end ital) in the kitchen wears an apron and holds a bag of baguettes and a wheel of cheese.
Thoughout the house, Edith’s quilts — on a bed, and one that’s a table runner — cheer up the decor.
Downstairs, one large room is full of childhood.
A cradle made by Sheila’s father, who died in 1992, holds a china baby doll that once was a a gift for Edith.
Old-fashioned wooden blocks spill from a box. A framed photo shows the Thomases’ six grandchildren, and nearby are well-worn white baby shoes of their three grown offspring, Ted, Terri and David.
David’s scuffed shoes have never had the dried mud cleaned off. “He’s, let’s see, 41 now,” Sheila said.
A much-loved teddy bear still has a faint smell of smoke — he survived the fire, she said. So did the Madame Alexanders. Terri was a freshman in college that year, and she had taken the dolls, in their boxes, along with her.