When one passes the home of Brenda and Bob Franzen, it is obvious someone in the house really gets into Christmas — and the festively decorated yard is just the tip of the holiday iceberg. When one enters through the back door of the home, the sounds of Christmas music may be wafting throughout the house. A Santa-filled Hoosier cabinet sits prominently in the kitchen.
“When I found out my neighbor was going to throw it away, I said, ‘I don’t think so!'” says Brenda, gesturing toward the antique.
An upside-down Christmas tree decorated with approximately 300 Santa Clauses and hanging from the ceiling light fixture in the entryway, can be seen through the opposite kitchen doorway. It not only draws the attention of backdoor visitors, but passing motorists have been known to stop on the shoulder of Busti-Sugar Grove Road to catch a glimpse when the front door has been left open.
The Franzens’ son, Shane, started the upside-down tree tradition after viewing one at Fenton Museum in the 1980s. He has an art background and a gift for decorating and brings this flair home every year during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“He decorates for house tours where he lives in Fitchburg, Massachusetts,” says Bob proudly.
The Santa-laden Hoosier cabinet in the kitchen and the tree in the entryway are just the beginning of Christmas in the Franzen home. Santas of every size and description are displayed throughout the house: he can be found in a plane, snoozing in an easy chair, kneeling in prayer with hands folded and on a motorcycle. There are Santas in the form of a lighthouse, a red-suited cow, a frog and a bear as well as several snowmen dressed as him. A large display of Clothique Santas can be seen through the glass windows of a wooden display case. Three life-size men in red stand guarding various locations, along with a set of three soft-sculpted ones that are perched on the back of a couch, are gifts from her son.
A large framed picture of Saint Nicholas hangs above the fireplace with several smaller ones found throughout the house. An area rug with the same theme covers part of the living room floor.
“She always had Santas, but we’ve all gone crazy with them these last few years, maybe six,” says Brenda’s daughter, Shannon McCray. “They have to have a nice face or she doesn’t want them. The shower curtain and toilet seat cover have Santa on them. At one point she had toilet paper with Santa … She has socks, sweaters, sweatshirts and a Fat Head Santa wall graphic.”
“And a Santa soap dispenser, soap dish and lotion dispenser,” Brenda adds.
“She doesn’t need any more,” 12-year-old Alex McCray pipes in.
“He says that but when he’s out he always sees Santas and says ‘Grandma doesn’t have that one,'” Shannon says.
Although many are untraditional, there are hundreds of traditional Kris Kringles in the home as well. The likenesses of the right jolly old elf were gifted by family members, friends or purchased by Mrs. Franzen. She claims to have nearly 1,000, but her husband thinks there are more, counting the ones in storage.
“We don’t have any more than five or six alike,” Brenda says.
A six-foot tree decorated with a Victorian theme holds a place of honor in front of one of the picture windows in the living room. Although everyone has contributed to the decorations on this tree, Shane has used his expertise to place lacey ornaments, crystal ornaments, doves and beads in shades of mauve, pink and off-white in a precise spot. He has tucked sprigs of flowers in well-thought out places, not just randomly hit and miss. The lucky finder of a glass pickle that has been hidden within the branches receives a special gift.
“The tree is very elegant,” Brenda says.
“Fabulous,” says her husband.
A four-and-a-half foot Disney-themed tree is located in front of another picture window at the opposite end of the long room. Shane provides a new ornament each year for his niece and nephews with each one marked with the recipient’s name. One day each decoration will go to the home of its owner to be hung on their tree.
A beautifully decorated fireplace takes up much of one of the long walls between the two trees. White lights intertwined in pine roping hang from the mantel, which is draped with a mantel scarf. A lighted crystal sleigh is positioned in the center. White, pink and burgundy poinsettias and a few Santa Clauses have been placed nearby.
“Our Christmases keep getting bigger and bigger,” Brenda says.
“We used to all go cut a tree. Then we’d get it home to find it was too tall and we’d have to take it out and cut it off,” Bob adds. “We finally did get an artificial tree because the kids wanted it up earlier and earlier.”
The Franzens, a couple of nearly 50 years, have three grandsons and a granddaughter. They also have several fur children, including a Pug, a Labradoodle, a Collie and a Pit Bull-Lab and five cats.
Besides Santa Clauses, Brenda collects antique salt cellars and bone plates. Her husband collects Budweiser steins and has every one except for one. She spent 25 years in employment at Peterson’s Corn Crib Candy Store, while Bob retired from Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities.
“I got a good one. He takes care of me,” Brenda says of her husband. “We went together for nine years, because I helped my mother take care of my father.”
Brenda is a scratch cook, but seldom measures, so sharing her recipes has been a challenge. She tells of standing beside her grandmother while she cooked.
“She had 13 children. She was a honey,” Brenda says while smiling.
The featured cook has learned a faster, easier way to prepare her meals, and enjoys cooking with a slow cooker. She is a self-taught cake decorator who learned from reading a book and says at one time she was known for her wedding cakes.
The Potato Chip Cookie recipe was her mother’s recipe.
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16 oz frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 tsp onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 c shredded cheddar chesse
1 c mayonnaise
3/4 c crushed crackers
1/4 c melted butter
Combine vegetables, onion, celery, cheese and mayonnaise in a greased 11/2 quart casserole dish. Combine crackers with butter and top casserole. Bake 350 degrees 30-35 minutes.
1 box devils food cake mix
1 c sour cream
1/4 c water
3 large eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
11/2 c mashed banana
Combine all ingredients. Divide batter evenly between small greased loaf pans, putting no more than 11/4 cups in each pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before turning loaves out of pan. Glaze.
11/2 c chocolate chips
2/3 c cream
1/4 c light corn syrup
Melt chocolate chips. Combine with remaining ingredients. Garnish with chopped nuts.
1 can cherry pie filling
1 can sweetened condesed milk
1 container whipped topping, thawed
1 can pineapple chunks, drained
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Chill overnight.
1/2 c ketchup
1/4 c Worchestershire sauce
1/8 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp mustard
2 T brown sugar
1 T water
1 small onion, chopped
11/2 lb chipped ham
Simmer half hour. Serve on hamburger rolls. Makes 10 sandwiches.
Maple Mustard Chicken
4 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 c Dijon mustard
1/4 c maple syrup
1 T vinegar
Line a 9” x 13″ pan with foil. Place chicken breasts in pan. Season with salt and pepper. Combine mustard, syrup and vinegar and pour over chicken, making sure to cover each piece. Bake at 425 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Potato Chip Cookies
1 c butter, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1/2 c potato chips, crushed
1/2 c nuts, chopped
Combine ingredients. Form into balls. Flatten with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes.
2 T margarine, melted
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 small jar Cheese Whiz
1 c cooked rice
2 pkgs frozen broccoli, chopped and thawed (do not cook)
Mix in buttered 1 quart casserole. Bake uncovered in 350 at degrees for 30-40 minutes. Serves 6.