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Antiques fill resident’s tree

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

(Chronicle photos by Jennifer Wabnitz) Suzy Spencer shows a small Christmas bulb which hangs high on her tree. The Shepherdstown resident has collected antique ornaments for more than 40 years.

Christmas trees are everywhere – the White House, the little house and Shepherdstown resident Suzy Spencer’s house, too.

Spencer has collected ornaments for the last 40 years from all over the world.

The ornaments are arranged on the tree in three layers.

At the top one can find antiques, some made of delicate, ornate glass. Next, the worldly treasures mixed with some homemade charmers – a tiny creche from Vienna and a plastic canvas Santa that delivers a Hershey kiss when you squeeze it. Closer to the eyes of fascinated little ones are the musical ornaments – a string of 10 bears playing their brass bells, tapping out various Christmas carols.

The antique section swelled when Spencer purchased a box full at a thrift store for $6. She wasn’t sure what was in it until she brought it home and started researching the different pieces. It was a big surprise when a glass bell was valued by a collector at $150.

The oldest antique ornament in her collection is the Dresden elephant. It was originally used as a place card for a small boy named Homer, which is still written on the back. It is made out of paper with a metallic paint. Too fragile to hang on the tree anymore, it takes its place of honor on the mantel in a frame.

Variety reigns in the homemade section. There is a sea horse, a poinsettia painted on a shell, cookie cutters, a Nativity scene carved in an eggshell, a red devil and so much more. There is a macaroni opera singer which Spencer cherishes because it reminds her of her cousin.

“My cousin, the opera singer, would delight us all as she sang Christmas carols at family gatherings,” Spencer said.

Little bird houses made from all natural items, bark and twigs, are among Spencer’s favorites, not because of their exquisite workmanship but because they remind her of her many trips to Paris where she bought them.

“I have traveled to many cities, but Paris is one of my favorite destinations,” she said. “I have been there nine times.”

Children are amused by the bear band who ring their bells and play popular Christmas carols. There are also six carousel animals that glide up and down their colorful poles and play other carols, carnival style.

“Some of my great nieces have named this the upsy-downsy ornament,” chuckles Spencer.

An intriguing pasttime for children is to find all the places that Spencer has hidden a Hershey kiss – inside a teddy bear, in a mini basket, inside a Santa face.

“What tree would be complete without the traditional green pickle?”

Spencer explains this is another searching game for children. An old German tradition was to hide a green pickle on the tree. Ornamental pickles are now available.

The tree stand is covered with an antique shawl, crocheted by Spencer’s great grandmother. She estimates that the shawl is 150 years old.

Spencer enjoys decorating the tree each year, although getting the boxes in and out of storage is getting harder to do. The reward comes on the faces of the children she shares her tree with – grand nieces, nephews, neighbors and friends all are delighted.

“One of the ways to enjoy a Christmas tree is to watch children investigating it,” Spencer said.

Spencer was a special education teacher for 27 years. She allows the children to explore the tree. They turn the music on and off. They eat the kisses. They ask 100 or more questions. Then she reads them a story as they sip hot chocolate.

Spencer’s tree may not be dripping in gems, but her ornaments are very special treasures. They reflect a rich and fruitful life, starting with a happy childhood, extensive travels, an accomplished painter and a successful career.