Recalling the storybook ornaments

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2016

 EDITOR’S NOTE: The Dec. 23 Short Rows included a brief tribute to the late historian, teacher and librarian Helen King, who each year displayed Christmas tree ornaments depicting storybook characters on her Christmas tree. The column sparked memories for retired Smithfield librarian Emma Jean Brady, who wrote to tell us what happened to the ornaments and the tree. I can’t improve on Mrs. Brady’s recollections and thus offer them in their entirety as this week’s Short Rows.

    By Emma Jean Brady

    I didn’t remember all of the details of Mrs. King’s donation of her Christmas tree and the storybook character ornaments, so I went back to the minutes of the Smithfield Library Association to track this down. Linda & Dennis Spady’s son, Brock, was involved in the project and earned his Eagle Scout award through his work on this. I called Linda to find out what year Brock earned his Eagle and this helped me zero in on the year that this wonderful donation was made.

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    At some point after Christmas, in 1997, Mrs. King offered the library her tree and ornaments. In January 1998 I presented her offer to the Smithfield Library Association and her gift was eagerly accepted. The Association funded all the expenses of this project – film for the photographer, developing the film, a fence to go around the tree, a plaque for Mrs. King, a stand for the album that was made.

    Lois Haynes was the photographer and she donated her time.

    Mrs. King agreed to keep the tree up at her house until we could arrange to get there to bring the ornaments to the library. Dorothy Rhodes who worked at the library, her husband, Mervyn, Lois and I went to Mrs. King’s house in February. We took the ornaments off the tree one by one and Lois took a picture of each of them — 200-plus.

    We needed someone to organize the pictures and write up a short summary of each ornament. I contacted the local scout troop and Brock Spady was offered this opportunity for his Eagle project. He set up interviews with Mrs. King at her home and at the library throughout that year and she told him where she got each one of the ornaments. They are from countries around the world and all over the U. S.

    The pictures and his write-ups were put into two albums — one for the library and one for Mrs. King.

    For protection of the tree, the Association paid to have a small, circular white picket fence made and placed around the tree. Cliff Phelps, a local library supporter, made the fence.

    We had a dedication of the tree and ornaments at the library in Dec. 1998. I asked some of the library children to choose one of the storybook characters and come dressed as that character. During the dedication, there was a special time for them to put their ornament on the tree. An album was presented to Mrs. King at this time.

    The Association had a plaque made honoring Mrs. King’s donation and it is on the stand that holds the album. A framed certificate of appreciation to Mrs. King and Brock Spady sits under the tree each year as well as toys that Mrs. King donated. Unfortunately, no one on the current staff at the library is knowledgeable about the history of the tree and ornaments. It has such sentimental value to those of us who were a part of it.

    So many people have been thrilled each Christmas since its first appearance in 1998. I remember children who, when coming through the doors of the library, would run over to the tree, flop down on their belly with their chin in their hand and stare at that tree for a long time. They were just in awe. Then the older ones always spent time connecting the book to the figure on the tree and thumbing through the album to see if they had guessed the right book.

    It’s one of the highlights of my time as branch manager. I return every Christmas specifically to see the tree.