THE BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT
With her mother’s 90th birthday coming up, Emily Sims wanted to surprise her.
ALL KATHERINE BATES JONES wanted for her 90th birthday was to own her childhood home. Her daughter, Emily Sims, wasn’t so keen on the idea; it seemed unwise for a nonagenarian to enter the real estate market. And, as the old saying goes, you can never really go home again. But the mother and daughter often drove from their current town in South
Carolina, US, to cruise past Katherine’s beloved old home in nearby Gaffney. While admiring the charming one-storey dwelling she was born in, Katherine would say, “I’d like to have that house back.”
One day, as Emily strolled down the doll house aisle of her local craf t store, inspiration struck: her mother could have her house back – in replica form. Emi ly’s f riend Thomas McAbee put her in touch with Ray Meyers, a local retired dentist with a talent for woodworking. Ray paid multiple visits to the original home, taking precise measurements and compiling details with the help of the house’s current owners.
There’s the inviting front verandah where Katherine and her mother, Nettie, spent hot summer nights cooling off before bed. There’s the little door to a nook beneath the pantry window in which Nettie stored her canned green beans, tomatoes and jars of apple jam. On the replica home, that door conceals three C batteries that power tiny, twinkling interior lights. Small stones line the base of the miniature house, echoing the large river rocks that Katherine’s uncle once hauled up from his farm to underpin the foundation of the original. And there’s a teeny flute on an itsy-bitsy table in the replica’s hallway.
That flute set the soundtrack for Katherine’s life. She was proudly playing it in her high school marching band when she met Malcolm ‘Mack’ Jones. The two musicians got together after a Christmas parade in 1942. Mack, a horn and trumpet player, proved to be the perfect accompaniment for Katherine;
Batteries power tiny, twinkling interior lights. Small stones line the base
the two were married on January 1, 1946. Emily was born soon after.
The replica home and the amazing story behind it deserved an impressive unveiling. Emily arranged a surprise party at which the miniature and Katherine would be honoured. But keeping the big secret about the little house was a tough task.
“Ray would ask me questions about the house”, Emily says of the planning process. “The last time I was inside was when I was a teenager, so I couldn’t remember everything. When visiting Mother I would start a conversation where I would say, ‘Oh, by the way, do you remember …’ and ask her something about the house. She would give details from her memory about the colour and the layout. She would tell me exactly what something looked like or where it was in the house.”
On August 28, 2016, Emily gathered 40 friends and family members at her house. The partygoers waited while Emily’s daughter-in-law, Christie, took Katherine out to lunch.
After the special birthday meal, Christie brought Katherine to Emily’s house.
“When we went inside, there was a house full of people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me,” Katherine says. “I was just shocked.”
Katherine’s many friends, siblings, grandsons and great-grandchildren packed the party. Emily and Thomas presented Katherine with the carefully wrapped replica home. It was the perfect gift.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Katherine says. “Now, the replica sits in the middle of my dining room table. I have fond memories of that house. I have had several family dinners where we eat around it. I can turn on the tiny lights within it. It’s so pretty.”
For Katherine, it turns out that it is possible to go home again.
Emily Sims wanted to surprise her mother with much more than a party