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Belle Plaine woman displays 30 years of Christmas (PHOTOS)

A 15-foot canoe is tucked into the rafters at Bear Lodge. Doris Horning covered it with about 5,000 acorns and other natural elements.
A 15-foot canoe is tucked into the rafters at Bear Lodge. Doris Horning covered it with about 5,000 acorns and other natural elements. The Wichita Eagle

“This Christmas I’m not well. Next Christmas I won’t be able to do this,” Doris Horning says softly in a southern-Oklahoma drawl.

“This” is emptying out the attic and decorating her and her husband’s 6-year-old cabin in Belle Plaine with 30 years of Christmas past — along with some new treasures. Doris has colon cancer that has spread to her liver, and she wanted to get everything out this year.

But even with the attic empty, “my house is not overly decorated for Christmas, because I don’t do that,” Doris says quietly. There may be 14 trees in it, as one lady from church pointed out, but you’d have to count them to believe it.

“It’s not modern, and it’s not overwhelming,” Doris says.

Unless you don’t live there. And then you’re overwhelmed with natural beauty, with warm woods, with crackling hearth and chimenea fires that Doris and her husband, Mark, like to stoke both inside and outside the cabin.

“My point about Christmas decorations as well as my home is that you can have something distinctive that talks about you … without spending a lot of money,” Doris Horning says. “I go out and gather sticks from outside and bring them in. When you walk in someone’s home … the best ones are the ones people have put something of themselves into.”

The Hornings have put a lot of themselves into the cabin they call Bear Lodge. It is evocative of one of their favorite vacation spots — Colorado — and is full of a rusticity that isn’t usually seen in these parts. Doris decorated the fireplace with rocks, wood from a tree that her family cut down, and birch bark from Siberia.

The couple moved from Winfield six years ago to be near their daughter and her family in Belle Plaine, building a cabin that would be friendly for their older years, Doris says. The bathroom, for example, can accommodate a wheelchair. The cabin is a smaller version of a house they had lived in on 21/2 acres on the historic Observatory Hill in the middle of Winfield. It had felt like living in the country.

This time, they’re on a residential street in small-town Belle Plaine, but with a view of an open field out the dining room window. When they’re directing people to their house, they say to look for the front porch with the bed on it.

“My grandmothers always had beds on their porches, because you slept outside,” Doris Horning says. “The bed is a remembrance of my grandmothers. In the summertime we’ve been known to lay out there. A lot of people have said, we’re going to come up there and lay down. They want to.”

A lot of people want to do a lot of things that they never end up doing. This Christmas season, Doris is undergoing an easier oral chemotherapy that is allowing her to enjoy the holiday. “Every day is a good day,” she says with cheer and gratitude in her voice, and she’s doing what she wants to do. Overprotection isn’t an issue; enjoying things is. China cups hang from a tree outside the picture window of a little craft house that Mark built for her in the backyard where she goes to get creative — including writing her family history.

Just in time for Christmas, Doris finished covering a 15-foot canoe with acorns and other natural decorations, and it is nestled above the rafters in the living room.

“When we travel I always pick up pine cones and nuts and little debris like that that I find. The grand-kids picked up acorns. It has dirt dauber nests, and arrowheads from Mesa Verde.” Doris attached them to the canoe with wood glue that her husband uses in his garden railroad. “There’s probably 5,000 pieces on it.”

“I have terminal cancer,” Doris says in her quiet voice. “I’ve been dealing with it for about five years. I probably have 18 months left. This Christmas and this canoe is a celebration.”

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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