The Ghost of Christmas Past

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, complete with turkey and all the trimmings. Having done most of the cooking, by the time the food was on the table I was too tired to really enjoy it, but boy did it make for a good weekend of leftovers.

But that’s what I really want to talk about—the weekend. I’ve never been a great believer in shopping on Black Friday. In fact, I’ve only done so twice—once in Las Vegas with Mary Grandma, my first mother-in-law. I have no idea what year that was. The second time was in 1985.

Seattle has a penchant for holiday storms. In 1984, high winds left thousands of people without power. Although Bill and I had never met at the time, I know from family lore that he cooked that year’s turkey on a grill out on his deck. At the time, I was living in a downtown condo, and we were mostly exempt. That night there were lots of unexpected guests from the burbs who showed up in need of cooked turkey and dressing.

In 1985, the Thanksgiving storm turned out to be snow rather than wind. Bill and I were engaged by then, and my kids were scheduled to fly to Vegas to spend Thanksgiving with their grandmother.

It was snowing like crazy on Wednesday as we took them to the airport. And making it back to the Denny Regrade was an adventure of its own kind. That night Bill and I had been invited to dinner at a local steakhouse located a few blocks away from the condo. When dinner was over, traffic was non existent. As we walked back to Bay Vista, we had a doozy of a snowball fight in the middle of a completely deserted Second Avenue.

Thanksgiving passed with us mostly snowbound in the condo. When Friday morning came around, we walked down a still deserted Second Avenue and went shopping to our hearts’ content at the Bon, Frederick and Nelson, and Nordstroms.

There was plenty of help. The department stores had put their clerks up in hotels, so they’d be on hand for Black Friday. The problem was not many people could make it into downtown Seattle, so we had the clerks’ full attention. And just so you know, once we had more than we could carry, we arranged to have everything delivered to the condo.

This year’s Black Friday had nothing to do with shopping and everything to do with decorating. For years, we had the honor of having Jim Hunt, one of Seattle’s top interior designers, decorate our house for Christmas.

Prior to that he had done store windows and condo lobbies and party rooms to the point that he actually dreaded Christmas. But he was semi-retired by the time we asked him to do our place, and for him, doing only one house as opposed to many was just what the doctor ordered. And after doing it once, he did it again and again.

So our grandchildren grew up celebrating Christmas in a place where someone had spent the better part of a month turning every room in the house into a winter wonderland. For more of Jim Hunt’s back story, you might want to revisit a previous blog, the one I posted on the 21st of April this year after I learned of Jim Hunt’s passing: Farewell to an Old Friend.

Several years ago, when climbing ladders became too much for him, he retired for good, and that’s when the kids and grandkids took over. With the aid of many hands, what used to take Jim a month on his own could be boiled down into a few hours. And because the kids knew just where everything was supposed to go and how it was supposed to look, the results were wonderful.

In real life, Jim designed two houses for us, and undesigned a third. When we sold our Tucson house, he was on hand in person, helping us figure out what to bring home from Tucson to incorporate into our place here.

With that in mind, it’s not much of a surprise that he would be my designer in fiction, too. That fact that Mel Soames’s garage is full of rolling shelves loaded with color-coordinated Christmas decorations is definitely a touch inspired by the real life Jim Hunt.

Earlier this year I didn’t find out Jim had passed away until well after the fact. There was no service, and I was left feeling as though the book had ended before the story was finished. Through the years, I had met two of Jim’s other customers, ladies for whom he had designed multiple residences. They were left with the same sense of not having had a chance to honor Jim or say goodbye.

So a month or so ago, the three of us went to lunch with Jim’s niece, Vicci. She told us about the Jim Hunt we never knew—the one who danced on the Dinah Shore show. The one who learned how to ice skate so he could join the Ice Capades. We saw the headshots of Jim Hunt with a different name when he was a young and exceedingly handsome Hollywood bit player.

It was a wonderful lunch, and by the time it was over, all three of us—Ruth, Denise, and I–felt as though we’d had the chance to give Jim a proper goodbye.

So this Christmas time isn’t the first one where Jim isn’t on hand in person to do the decorating, but it is the first one with him really gone.

Friday morning initially there was quite a crowd around putting away knickknacks, carrying in boxes of decorations, putting up the tree, and decorating it.

By afternoon, it was just our granddaughter, Celeste, and I. Celeste is now a sophomore and an honors student at WSU, but she came to us originally not by birth but via an orphanage in China when she was eighteen months old. On the plane trip back to the States, she was smart enough to blow me a kiss, and she’s had my heart ever since.

By that time of day on this Black Friday, most everything was up and in its proper place. The tree was decorated, yes, but Celeste’s designer eye realized something was missing. So back to the garage she went.

She returned with a gift box marked with a Jim Hunt-inspired label: “Silver Decor” as opposed to “Blue” or “Red” Inside we found all kinds of glittery, fun stuff, and as Cece added in bits and pieces of glitz and glam, it turned into exactly the kind of Christmas tree Jim Hunt would have loved.

And while she was doing that, I had a chance to tell her about what I had learned at that luncheon about a remarkable gay man, that wonderful silver-haired character, who had been an important part of Celeste’s Christmas experience for her whole life.

As the conversation ended, she told me, “Jim was always a glittery eccentric.”

Yes, he was, and I think the Ghost of Christmas Past would love to know that is how he’s remembered.


38 thoughts on “The Ghost of Christmas Past

  1. Before we ate Christmas Dinner, my would mention the names of all kinfolks and friends who had passed. We thanked the Lord for letting us have these folks in our lives. There were many moist eyes around the table. As an emergency responder, I worked many holidays. I and my partner would think of how privileged we were to help folks. To us that was a present from the Lord to help folks

  2. Absolutely beautiful! I remember one Christmas-1962 to be exact- when my father broke his leg and could not get a tree. His buddies decided to bring us one so I came home from school to find 3 trees; since guys never talk to each other. I did my best to decorate all 3. We went inland to my maternal grandmas for Christmas stopping at dad’s family’s home in the hills before town. They had a big house with many stairs and like yours the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen. Dad could not make it up the stairs so after a short visit we continued onto my grandmas house which only had one level. I was brokenhearted hearted because their house was beautiful, they had a splendid tree, with many presents and we were supposed to stay there which amazed me, but fate and a broken leg stepped in. The next morning we were awakened by police knocking on grandmas door telling us dad’s family house had burned to the ground and all 10 were dead. Not an easy Christmas to forget, you could say I was saved by a broken leg.

    • What a horrific loss for your family! I’m sure Christmas was never the same after that.

  3. Simply wonderful Janice! Thank you for letting us into your life. Your description of Jim warms my heart, just what I need to bring on the Spirit of Christmas. What a special friend you had. Blessings, Grandchildren…

  4. Oh, Judy, thanks for sharing your story about Jim, the tree decorator. I think one of the best parts of Thanksgiving Day is actually remembering the past ones. I’ve got some marvelous Thanksgiving memories and some very sad memories. Thanks for the story of you & Bill when you were engaged.

  5. Thank you for this blog and for your novels. I’m beginning to re- read the Beaumont novels in order. Looking forward to making my way to the newest one.

  6. What a great story about a special man and friendship. Also so fun to hear about your and Bill’s early holidays. I have enjoyed every memory you have shared about Jim. He was always a favorite when he appeared in the Beau books too. Your Granddaughter sounds like a joy and the tree is gorgeous!

  7. God bless Jim and may he rest in well-deserved peace…
    Beautiful tree (thanks for the pictures) and memories.

  8. Honoring Jim’s memory as you did so beautifully, brought to mind the words on a poster from my teaching days:
    “Some people walk into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same”.
    To all the “glittering eccentrics” who have walked into and out of my life…Thank you for all the fun you gave me. You made my life sparkle and glow brighter.

  9. “1984 – The Year of the Traveling Thanksgiving Turkey”!
    My nephew who lived in Issaquah/Lake Sammamish area was hosting the family dinner. His area was the first to lose power, so the turkey was packaged up and went to my sister’s oven in Rainier Beach. Her power went out so it went to a cousin’s and finally ended up at my other sister’s oven in Federal Way! We were planning on going that year as the kids were sick so missed out on all the drama. We lived in the Woodinville/Duval area where power went out frequently or the first area to get snow, our Thanksgiving dinner consisted on hotdogs and marshmellows roasted over a nice fire in our fireplace.

  10. I grew up on a farm during the WWII years. After Thanksgiving dinner we’d hang a red paper bell from the light fixture above the dining room table. There was also a bell for the living room light fixture where the tree would be placed. My sister and I begged for a tree as early as possible.

    I don’t remember a lot of decorations, but we made all kinds of special cookies and breads that we only had at Christmas. Of course, there was lutefisk soaking in a pail on the back porch. That a feature of Christmas Eve.

    We didn’t get a lot of presents, but always slippers and maybe a doll. It was a good time with family and friends dropping in.

  11. We aren’t ready to decorate, yet, but when we do, the decorations all seem to have stories attached. Remember when Mom sent us these? That one’s from our vacation in WV. I made cross-stitch ornaments for everyone that year! Our first Christmas together! Decorating is a trip down memory lane.

  12. Very nice but mentioning Jim’s sexual orientation at the end was quite unnecessary. He was clearly a skilled and beloved human being, period.

    • His sexual identity was part of his life and had always been so. It was not an afterthought. It was who he was, and we loved him. All of us, Celeste included.

  13. I loved the story you wrote and the beautiful tree pictures. I can hardly wait until Christmas gets here because your new book is on my list for this year. Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  14. Two events my mother was very good about were Christmas and birthdays-
    She loved these celebrations, and we always had a wonderful Christmas-
    My father would take us two younger girls to pick out a Christmas tree at a “tree farm-” We would deliberate, discuss with the tree-seller, and end up getting what
    we saw as the perfect tree- I recall that there was almost always snow back then-
    Stockings were an important part of Christmas morning, when we opened all the presents- Christmas music was always on throughout the holidays-
    What a lovely story about Jim Hunt! He was clearly a dear, dear man-
    Every family would benefit from having a “Glittery Eccentric” in its midst-
    Your beautiful tree is a reflection of his years with you-

  15. A lovely story. Thanks.
    As a complete aside, I have just finished reading 3 Ali Reynolds my librarian picked out for me. I forgot to order them by the date of publication, so I bounced around Ali’s life. Many times I said to myself, “Oh that’s what happened” as I read a back story. One thing that struck me was the size of Yavapai County. I never realized this before.
    Thank you so much for the many hours of reading pleasure.

  16. This will be my first Christmas without my life partner for 57 years.
    I’m still not sure I can bring myself to put up any decorations. The heart is just not in it.
    Thanksgiving was very hard, and the rest of the holiday season doesn’t look very good either.
    I’m trying to find something to smile about every day and just remember the good times.
    My hope is for everyone else to have a very Merry Christmas.

    • Thank you for thinking of others in your time of grief and sorrow…Your life partner will always be in your heart and you will be in mine!

  17. I love the photos of the tree decorations! They look a lot some on my tree!
    However, in one photo there is a seascape that looks like a Dzigurski and I wonder if it actually is one of his magnificent oils.
    I have met you several times here in Green Valley at our library and at the Tucson Festival of Books. I really enjoy your weekly blog. Thank you for all the interesting tidbits of information. Thank you!

    • The paintings in the photos are either ML Coleman’s–from Sedona, or Will Schilb’s. When I take photos, I try so hard not to cut off the tops that I completely forget whatever is in the background.

  18. What a wonderful memory . So glad you were able to give him a memorable good bye by learning more about him

  19. Beautiful tribute to an amazing man. Beautiful decor in your house. Thanks for sharing the picutres.

  20. What a great story of remembrance and friendship! Love how you incorporate real people and sites into your books. Thanks for this one!!

  21. One Christmas my husband and I were living in student housing in Ellensburg with 4 of our 5 children (oldest daughter was in the Marines). We didn’t have much money, so instead of buying a tree (to spend the money on presents for the kids) I decorated our round dinner table into a tree. Using lights and a hook in the ceiling. Placed ornaments inside on the table. My children say that was the best Christmas they remember.

  22. I love putting an Angel on the top of my tree every year. When I was a kid, decorating the tree was so fun. I remember my Grandma would make us PJs and give them to the four of us kids almost every year for Christmas. One year the pajamas were to small for my little brother and I, but mom still took a picture of us wearing them. Thanks for writing some very interesting books over all the years. Working in a library for half of my career helped me read them all.


  23. Love this post! Thank you for a beautiful and sweet story. He sounds like an amazing man!

  24. What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend Jim. I’m glad you were able to spend time with others that knew him and that you learned more about him. He sounds like a wonderful friend. Your Christmas tree is gorgeous. We’ve had ours up since early November, that’s a first for us so I’m glad we’re enjoying it for a longer time this year. Merry Christmas Judy to you, Bill and the rest of your family.

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