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.