Thomases decorate country home in traditional beauty

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, December 26, 2018

By Leila S. Case

AMERICUS — Elaine Thomas likes to decorate her home with flair throughout the year but even more so during the Christmas season.
Burton and Elaine Thomas’ home outside of Plains begins to look a lot like Christmas the day after Thanksgiving as they deck the halls with holly berries, pine. and much more.
“Christmas is my favorite holiday and it has been since I was a child. I enjoyed helping my mother, Dot Morris, prepare for the holidays so by the time I was in my early teens I was responsible for decorating our family tree,” reminisces Elaine. “I credit my mother with my love of entertaining and cooking.”
The Thomases’ roots run deep in Sumter County, reaching back for generations. They inherited a love of family traditions they continue today with their married daughters and four grandchildren. The couple resides in the mid-century, brick ranch-style designed house where Burton grew up that was built by his parents, the late Joel and Barbara Thomas. Their home holds many happy memories; perhaps the fondest is they were married in a ceremony held in front of the living room fireplace.
“Our home is very special to us and we love living here surrounded by the open, serene countryside,” says Elaine, pointing out how much they admire the picturesque farmland surrounded by lush wooded areas filled with ancient hardwood trees and plants indigenous to southwest Georgia.
This is the third year the Thomases have celebrated Christmas in their country home, having moved in after an extensive remodel. The footprint of the house remains the same and they made no structural changes; however, the interior was updated to reflect today’s lifestyle and ambience. The kitchen and the bathrooms were completely remodeled and a fourth bedroom was reconfigured and converted into a large, walk-in closet and dressing room. A half-bath was added as well as a closet for storing china, crystal, silver, and table linens.
Each room is beautifully appointed with a mixture of family heirlooms, antiques and vintage pieces, along with new. The interior and exterior were repainted in an eye-appealing neutral color scheme. Their daughter, Lydia Ann Thomas Fowler of Americus, an interior designer, chose a color palette in shades of gray for the wall colors. For the window treatments, new upholstery on chairs and sofas, and bed linens, she used coordinating fabrics mixed with pops of color. The result reflects southern hospitality throughout.
As soon as Thanksgiving is over and the fall season’s decorations put away, the containers of Christmas décor are taken out of storage, and Elaine sets out to find the perfect Christmas tree, always an eight-foot, floor-to-ceiling, live Fraser fir.
“Once the tree takes center stage in front of the den windows, Burton strings it with hundreds of miniature white lights. He is a perfectionist and carefully wraps each limb from the trunk outward. It takes him hours and hours,” Elainee says, emphasizing that her husband does an outstanding job to make the tree twinkle and sparkle.

The Christopher Radko ornament signed by President Jimmy Carter is always displayed at Christmas at the Thomases’ home.

“After Burton is satisfied with the lights, I trim the tree, using all Christopher Radko ornaments but first I stand back and eyeball where I want to hang each one — the largest and heaviest are hung on the thick, inside branches, and the medium and small I place on the outer limbs,” she says. She keeps the ornaments accident-free by hot gluing each one on its tiny hanger.
Once she’s finished with the tree, Elaine decorates the remainder of the house, but she plans beforehand what she wants to use in each room.
“I don’t do the same thing every year — I like to change things up and always use my special decorations and collections I’ve had for years,” says Elaine. “I love opening the boxes because it brings back so many sweet memories of where we discovered each piece and how much each one means. I rotate the collections, but it’s a tradition to have our main tree in the den.”
Referring to the Radko ornaments, Elaine recalls meeting the designer on his visit to Americus and Plains in the 1990s. That’s when Elaine acquired Radko’s especially designed Plains ornament signed by President Jimmy Carter that she displays on an antique chest.
Another of Elaine’s favorites is a wreath featuring all Radko ornaments created by Joey Dunn of Americus that she purchased at a holiday benefit years ago. It has a place of honor on the kitchen wall above the sink.
She also cherishes a wreath decorated with sentimental items. Among these is a vintage Shiny Bright that once hung on her childhood trees, a miniature cheerleader that represents the years her daughters were Southland Academy cheerleaders, a miniature Brenau University student in cap and gown, the daughters’ alma mater, and a miniature farm tractor.
She also has a large collection of the Hallmark ornaments from the 1970s through the 1980s, along with whimsical Dept. 56 Dickens houses. “I don’t display as many Dickens houses as I once did, but all of us, especially our grandchildren, enjoy seeing the miniature houses lit up and glowing.”
A consummate hostess, Elaine increases her entertaining level during the holidays, hosting her bridge club members and spouses for an evening party, her prayer group from Rehoboth Baptist Church, as well as other friends and relatives.
“Our family Christmas Day tradition is so much fun,” points out Elaine. “Christmas morning Burton and I visit our children and grandchildren, Rachel and John Shealy and their daughters, Mary Martin and Burton Shealy, and Lydia Ann and John Fowler, and their children, Thomas and Tilman, in Americus, and who live within walking distance of each other.” Then they go to the home of Sonny and Mary Lynn Shealy, John’s parents, whose home is also nearby for Christmas Day brunch.

The Christopher Radko ornament signed by President Jimmy Carter is always displayed at Christmas at the Thomases’ home.

“Later in the afternoon everyone comes to our home,” says Elaine. “We exchange gifts and then have dinner. I usually serve a standing rib roast or beef tenderloin because by that time everyone is tired of turkey and dressing. And, of course, we have a variety of side dishes and desserts. I love to cook, especially during the holiday season; in fact I like cooking so much I’ve been nicknamed Betty Crocker by some of my friends,” she says with a laugh.
“After dinner we watch the DVD ‘Christmas Vacation,’ a holiday tradition we started a few years back that we’ve grown fond of repeating,” says Elaine.
But the day after Christmas, Elaine says the tree is stripped of all the decorations and they are carefully put away for another year.
“We’re so thankful and blessed to have our family close by and able to be together,” says Elaine. “Of course, we miss our loved ones who are no longer with us, but they left us with a legacy of family traditions that we continue each year.”