On Saturday, December 16, Don and Sharon Decker opened their home for residents from Mint Hill and surrounding communities to view their model train displays and vintage holiday decorations.
Eager visitors began congregating in the Deckers’ driveway early. At 4:30, a special visitor rounded the corner: Santa Claus! Traditionally, Santa arrives at the Deckers home on a fire truck. Unfortunately, an emergency called the fire truck away this year, so Santa arrived on foot. Although the fire truck was delayed, children were able to explore it and meet the firemen later in the evening.
Although most people came to see Don and Sharon’s extensive collection of model trains, Sharon also took pride in showing off her home’s vintage Christmas decorations. “I try to keep it vintage because of the time frame we do,” said Sharon, pointing out the antique items and decorations that fill her home. “I always think of the end of the war when the soldiers came back, they made their own decorations and things,” Sharon added, pointing out Christmas cards hanging from string and crocheted lace doilies dotting green garlands, both hallmarks of the post-war era when Lionel Trains were popular in homes.
“We had people that just lingered through the house on the tour,” said Sharon. “They stood by my decorations and said that they remember when they grow up they had that their home back in the 50s. We had older people, their Christmas present was the trains around the tree back in the late 40s.”
The Deckers’ Lionel Train display is impressive, filling the entirety of their two-room third floor. The multi-level, two-room display features tracks that climb and descend mountains and span rooms and hallways as steam engines run by Don travel through tunnels cut in the walls. This year, the Deckers expanded their display, opening a new room for viewing on the second floor of the house.
Now in its thirteenth year, the Deckers’ annual model train viewing has become a true fixture in the community. Friends, neighbors and even children who once came to see the trains all contribute to make the event happen.
Greeting visitors and managing traffic into the house was Sharon’s friend Holly, who has been helping with the display for five years. One the second floor of the house were Mary Margaret and Ann Estelle Fryer, Mint Hill Middle School students who remember visiting the Deckers’ display as children and now help Sharon to decorate her home and manage traffic through the house. “I love the complexity of it and just the look on the children’s faces when they see it, how happy they are,” says Ann Estelle.
Escorting visitors to the main display on the third floor was Josh Ponder, another young man who remembers visiting the display as a child and is now interested in learning about model trains and setting them up himself. Stationed outside taking photographs with Santa was photographer Haggen Hill. Hill is brand new to the neighborhood but was eager to jump in and help when Sharon told her about the event.
Saturday’s event saw about 280 visitors to the Deckers’ Ashe Plantation home. “This was one of the best ones that we’ve ever had,” said Sharon. “It was amazing,There was such a sweet spirit. We had people that told us that we put the spirit of Christmas back again.”
The Deckers use their annual train display to pay it forward, giving to local residents in need during the holidays. This year, the Deckers partnered with Servants Heart, collecting Target and Wal-Mart gift cards that will be used to purchase both necessities and Christmas presents for local families in need. It’s important to Sharon, who grew up in foster care, that all children are taken care of at Christmas. Now in a position where she is able to help others, Sharon considers it her duty and privilege to give back and help those in need where she can.
“People told us how much of a blessing to be able to share in this they had never seen a layout like Don’s,” said Sharon. “It blessed us as much as it blessed them. To see the love they have for the each other and for the people that they were helping and they didn’t even know them. Don and I pray before the event and ask God to help us show his love, and it happened with their loved us and ours back.”