Merlene Davis: Collector of black Santas a kid at heart

Nothing comes between woman and her black Santas

Herald-Leader columnistDecember 10, 2012 

Flora Byrd is a lot better than I am.

Like her, I collected black Santa Clauses. But unlike her, when my family began to complain about the growing number of Santas all around the house and on the tree, I stopped.

Byrd hasn't missed a beat, no matter how many of her five children or 10 grandchildren complain. (Her one great-grandson, an infant, hasn't voice an opinion yet.)

She has 125 black Santas.

"My children tell me to stop buying them. I don't know why they tell me all this stuff because they know I don't mind them," Byrd said.

Byrd has tall ones, small ones, one that sings, and one that is a teapot. She even has a couple of white Santas. "We don't discriminate," Byrd said, laughing.

She begins pulling out her treasures from storage just after Halloween and then basks in the awe and praise she receives from guests for her extensive collection.

She proudly told the history of each one as she led me through the lower level of her house last week. There were even a couple in the powder room, and more in the kitchen.

Some are still stored away, a reluctant bow to her children's wishes, she said.

One came from Germany when her son was stationed there. One came from Alexandria, Va., because a woman there knew she collected them. Most came from Cracker Barrel restaurant and Macy's department store, Byrd said.

She began collecting Santas about eight years ago and has spent a pretty penny on that hobby. She bought five this year, costing about $350. That's her limit, she said and promised she would not even look for any during after-Christmas sales.

But, then again, "I really love them," she said. "Although I say I won't get another one, if I see one and I like him, he will say, 'take me home. I want to go home with you.' And the next thing you know I've got him."

More than one time she has taken a Santa home only to discover she already has the same one. She has a few sets of duplicates in her collection.

"I get mad at myself," Byrd said. "It is one of those senior moments."

Why not take it back?

"No," she said. "Once it gets here, I say he is home."

Byrd's mother, Flora Hudson, collected dolls and displayed them throughout their home. Hudson bought the brothel of infamous madam Belle Brezing after Brezing's death in 1940, according to Lexington Herald-Leader articles.

Her mother converted the brothel into the Hudson Hotel, the first hotel for black people in Lexington, Byrd said.

Throughout the house were dolls she collected over the years. So Byrd's collecting gene comes honestly.

Byrd began collecting the Santas because she was attracted by their colorful outfits and "I guess because I am black.

"I saw something beautiful and different and I could get something that looked like me, that I could relate to," she said. "I'm just glad to have something that looks like me."

In recent years, she said some of her favorite stores have stopped carrying the black Santas. Byrd didn't take kindly to that. She wrote letters to the corporate offices and asked why. She received one reply, but is still waiting for others.

"I am not a kid," she said. "You don't put a sucker in my mouth and expect me to be satisfied. I spend too much money."

A retired Licensed Practical Nurse, Byrd gained her credentials by attending classes while rearing five children and working the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. shift caring for patients as a nurse's aide.

So now, she said, she has earned the right to collect as many black Santas as she wants and can afford. She has started a collection of black angels, too, and also might take a liking to a collection of snowmen.

"I just love Christmas," Byrd said. "I guess I'm a kid at heart. I guess I really am."

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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