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Collecting a Christmas tree forest 

A SPECIAL ANGEL with only one eye rests atop Mary Lou Bohannon’s favorite Christmas tree. It is a family heirloom that has seen many Christmases—but none quite like those in recent years at Mary Lou’s Woodford County home. 

At last count she had 110 Christmas trees! 

Approximately half are from 3 to 7 feet tall, and most are the traditional green, but there are many other colors and sizes throughout her home. Only six of them are outdoors. Mary Lou decorates them all between early September and the first of November. 

Her love for the season and the true spirit of Christmas found its way into her heart during childhood and decided to stay. 

“Christmas Eve we always went to Mamaw Sutherland’s house—all the aunts, uncles and cousins were there. Cousins drew names. Mamaw had a small house but a big family. I can remember sitting on the bed to eat, or on the stair steps, because there wasn’t any place else to sit. The angel Mamaw had on her tree when I was a little girl is the angel on my ‘Sutherland’ tree. She only has one eye and she is misshapen, but she is the best!” 

Mary Lou’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all gone now, but their faces in photographs are smiling from the Sutherland tree ornaments when she hosts the family’s Christmas gathering each year, along with visits from as many as 15 other groups during the season. 

Growing up on farms in Henry and Shelby counties, she recalls her father always cutting a cedar tree that the family decorated on the day she and her sister, Linda, got out of school for Christmas. It was taken down on New Year’s Day. 

When she was a child, she liked to turn out the lights, except those on the tree, turn on some Christmas music, rest on her back under the tree and “just let the spirit of Christmas flow over me.” 

Magical memories and poignant reflections often return as she is decorating her small forest of trees with themes of the Nativity, Easter, Thanksgiving and other special days. Names of family members and friends are written on numerous ornaments and decorations that were gifts, including the treasured cross-stitched nativity scene that her mother made during her last years. 

After her husband, Jerry, passed away and she retired as a specialist with the USDA Farm Service Agency in Lexington, Mary Lou, a former 40-year consumer-member of Shelby Energy, moved to Versailles to be near her daughter, Lori. Her grandmother’s one-eyed angel came to help warm the home each Christmas. 

“An empty house with no memories is not a home,” she told me. “After I retired, I started expanding my decorating and inviting people to share it. That brought love into my house and turned it into a home. And love is what Christmas is all about. Love from God, love for God, and sharing that love with others.” 

BYRON CRAWFORD is Kentucky’s storyteller—a veteran television and newspaper journalist known for his colorful essays about life in Kentucky.

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