Doors of Hope: The Walkington Home

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace

Lesley and Brian Walkington met in San Diego at a swing dance class. The Mississippi-raised southern girl moved out there to pursue her master’s degree, and he had always lived in California. When he proposed, she told him, “‘I’m a Southern girl,’” she said. “‘Just understand at some point in your life, you will be living in the South, that’s not a question.’”

Their big move back to her homeland came sooner than expected. The plan was for her mother to move to California once the Walkington’s daughter Ruby was born, but her mom died when she was just six months old.

“‘I’ve got to get back to the South,’” Walkington remembers thinking. “‘Who’s going to help me raise my daughter to be southern?’ Because I wanted her to have that wonderful southern upbringing that I had, and I wanted her to experience small-town life and just know her community.”

They settled on Oxford after spending a weekend getaway there, because, “I just needed my southern fix because I was missing my mom really, really bad.” Though she grew up in Jackson, her grandparents often took her to Oxford to see her aunt and where her father grew up. She had never taken Brian to the little college town before. While they were there, they fell in love with the town. They bought their 1939 house sight-unseen when they got back to California, and began the remodel. Once the majority of the renovations were done, save a few odds and ends, Doors of Hope approached the couple, asking if they would participate in the Christmas home tours.

“I hope that everybody can focus on the joy of Christmas. We all have family, whether it’s blood-related or friends that we kind of adopted as family members,” she said. “I think that’s important during the holidays, when people don’t have a home, and that’s what Doors of Hope is all about, trying to find a home for people, and get people transitioned into their own home and to have their happy ending.”

With about six months out from the tour and enough time to finish a few painting projects and anything else, they agreed, and made it their “mission activity.”

The Walkington’s Christmas decorations are “very traditional, and very red and green and gold and some silver,” and stem largely from Lesley’s childhood, or were inherited from her grandmother or mother after they passed away.

“My Christmas China I’ve had since I was 21,” she said, laughing. “My grandmother, Ruby, gave me that when I had graduated from college and I’d gotten my first apartment. I’m like, ‘Grandmother, why are you giving me this China?’ I said, ‘You know, it’s not like I have a family, I’m not getting married anytime soon, so why are you giving me this?’ And she said, ‘Well, you should have it, every girl needs a set of Christmas China.’”

Other things came from her grandmother as well, like Santa’s red sleigh that she filled with her daughter Ruby’s toys, a namesake to her grandmother. Along with the sleigh is Lesley’s favorite Christmas staple: A little Santa with skis on his shoulder, ready to hit the slopes, “Oh, I just love him!” Some other collections stemmed from memories at her grandmother’s home during Christmastime, like her nutcracker collection she adds to each year.

“My grandmother always had nutcrackers, and she always had them on the hearth on each side of the fireplace,” she said. “Hers were these big, heavy-duty nutcrackers, so I’d crack pecans with it, and she would let me, and I didn’t get in trouble or anything like that, and I’d make a terrible mess, but it was okay.”

The family’s tree, keeping with the theme, is also very traditional and sentimental. Each year, there’s an ornament added for Ruby, there’s an ornament “from her little handprint, it’s a reindeer.” Lesley collects ornaments with her brother, who often spends Christmas at her house. She and Brian started collecting crystal ornaments when they were first married. She kept ornaments from Washington D.C., from her grandfather’s time working with Sunny D. Montgomery.

The rest, she remembers hanging on her family’s tree growing up: The angel they got when she was in the first grade, colorful glass ornaments from her mom that she now hangs from a wreath over her fireplace, “beautiful teardrop ornaments that she had and they’re hand-blown glass and they’re about seven inches long and they have gold hand-painted stripes on them — really beautiful.”

“My mom was the biggest kid I’ve ever known, and so I think she made me appreciate the holidays so much more, because she would get just as excited as we kids were, or probably even more excited,” she said. “She would decorate, and I always thought she was decorating for us, but then the older I got, I’m like, you know what, she was doing this for her because she just loves it so much.”

Now that she has her own daughter, she says she can see Christmas in a new way and through Ruby’s eyes. Since her daughter’s birthday is a few days after Christmas, each year, Lesley tries to make the home particularly magical during Christmastime. Two weeks before Christmas, the Walkingtons usually throw a birthday party for Ruby, where even Santa makes a guest appearance.

On Christmas Eve, they invite friends and family over for their big dinner, which includes chicken piccata and Lesley’s famous pecan pie — “everybody loves my pecan pies,” so much so that the first year she made it for Thanksgiving when she was younger, her mother insisted she make two more for Christmas.

Then, for Christmas day, the Walkingtons will spend about three hours opening stocking stuffers.

“We are big on stockings and stocking stuffers,” she said. “The stockings are stuffed to the brim and then there’s gifts upon the mantel, and then there’s gifts down on the hearth, and they’re just falling all over the floor.”

In their house, they open gifts one at a time, stockings first, then the gifts under the tree. It’s usually about 1 o’clock before they’re finished, and then it’s off to make Christmas brunch.

“Food is a big deal, and my mom was this wonderful amazing cook, so we always make what she made,” she said. “She made homemade biscuits, fried apples and country ham, so that’s our signature Christmas brunch.”



Read about Doors of Hope, or check out another home from the tour.

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