By Keysha Drexel
Dixie and Tom Brannon are opening their home to the public for the holidays to help raise money for a program that will open doors for deserving students.
The Vestavia Hills couple’s home at 2104 Hickory Ridge Circle in Vestavia Hills is one of the homes on the fourth annual Legacy League Christmas Home Tour. The Legacy League, an auxiliary of Samford University, hosts the tour to help fund scholarships for students who need financial assistance to pursue their collegiate dreams.
Dixie has been a member of the Legacy League for several years, and this is the first time her house has been featured on the Christmas Home Tour.
But it’s not the first time she’s been asked to have her home included on the tour.
“About two years ago, two homeowners backed out of the tour, so Lisbeth Cease asked me to do it, but at that time, there was just no way I could,” Dixie said. “But she said then that I’d be asked again later.”
Now that “later” has arrived, Dixie said she’s been busy over the last couple of weeks getting ready for Christmas Home Tour visitors.
“I am very happy to have this opportunity to help raise money for a new scholarship, but after I agreed to be on the tour, I started noticing a dozen little things that needed to be done around the house,” she said.
The Brannons have lived in the 6,000-square-foot house since 1994, and it is where they raised their two sons, Ben, 35, and Patrick, 33. The Brannon brothers are in business with their dad, owner of Brannon Honda in Birmingham, and handle the day-to-day operations of the dealership.
The couple will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary on Dec. 1. From the beginning, Christmas has played a big role in their relationship.
Dixie was teaching home economics at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alamogordo when she met Tom and he asked her to go on a unique first date.
“Our first official date was actually going to get Christmas trees together,” Dixie said. “It was December, and we drove up to the mountains and Tom cut a tree for his house and a tree for my house. Tom had his tree flocked, and to this day, we still have a flocked tree every year.”
In addition to the traditional flocked tree decorated with red poinsettias, the family has another Christmas tradition that almost didn’t get off the ground.
“One year, I decided it would be neat to do a tree with a chili pepper theme as a nod to Tom’s roots in New Mexico,” Dixie said. “The boys were little then, and one of them said they were not going to open their Christmas presents under a chili pepper tree, so we had two trees that year.”
The chili pepper tree is nestled on a staircase landing leading from the Brannons’ kitchen to the second level of their home, which throughout features Native American-influenced artwork.
“Every piece of furniture and every piece of art tells a story about our family, in one way or another,” Tom said. “These are things that are special to us.”
A sideboard in the eat-in kitchen area is decorated with wreaths Ben and Patrick made when they were schoolboys.
“The boys made those wreaths when they were in preschool, and I bring them out every year,” Dixie said. “We also still use these old plaster of Paris ornaments Tom and I made during the first year of our marriage.”
The eat-in kitchen area also features another tree decorated completely in ornaments from the Mark Roberts Fairies collection.
“I love the whimsy of the fairies, and they remind me that this is supposed to be a season of fun,” Dixie said.
But her other Mark Roberts collection really signifies the reason for the season, Dixie said.
“I love the fairies — and we’ll have two trees featuring the fairies – but my favorites are the nativity scenes,” she said. “I always like to be very aware of the reason for the season, and that’s why you’ll see nativity scenes of different kinds in just about every room.”
Tour-goers will also see a small Christmas tree decorated with fruit and pinecone ornaments in the dining room.
“There will be a total of five trees throughout the house for the tour, which is just one more than I usually do every year,” Dixie said. “I guess some people would say that’s going overboard, but I love Christmas and I love to decorate for Christmas.”
Both Dixie and Tom said their love of the holiday season started when they were children, growing up without much money but with plenty of family traditions.
“When I was a kid, my family didn’t have much money, but we’d still hang our stockings up at Christmas, even though we didn’t have a fireplace,” Tom said. “I was always up really early on Christmas morning, so excited to see what was under the tree.”
Tom is still the first one up on most Christmas mornings, his wife said.
“I married the original Santa Claus. He is still always the first one up on Christmas morning and always goes all out to give the most thoughtful gifts,” Dixie said.
Among those gifts is a large Mark Roberts nativity scene that Legacy League Christmas Home Tour visitors will see in the Brannons’ foyer.
“Tom got together with our sons one year and they gave me that set, and so that’s probably one of my favorite things to set up every Christmas,” Dixie said.
The five Christmas trees in their home are not the only ones Dixie will decorate this holiday season.
“I also do the Christmas tree for the dealership every year,” she said. “For the last few years we’ve done a tree with the Honda blue and silver.”
The Legacy League Christmas Home Tour won’t be the first time the Brannons welcome guests to their home for the holidays.
“We’ll have the dealership’s managers’ Christmas party here on Dec. 7, the tour is on Dec. 11 and we’ll host a party for our (Shades Mountain Baptist) Sunday school class on Dec. 13,” Dixie said. “It’s a very busy time of the year, but we feel blessed and hope people come into our home and feel comfortable. That’s one of the biggest compliments you can get.”
Usually Dixie does all of the decorating at her home herself, but this year, she decided to get some help from a few budding interior designers.
Samford University juniors Krista Hamilton and Alicia Alexander and sophomore Jasmine Wallace have lent their time and talents to help deck the halls of the Brannon home.
“I knew I would probably need some help to get ready for the tour, and I thought this would be a wonderful way to give some talented Samford interior designs students some experience and something for their portfolios,” Dixie said.
The students each took on one bedroom upstairs and have been decorating on the weekends for several weeks.
“They’ve really done a great job, and what a delight it has been to work with these sweet girls,” Dixie said. “We’re going to post little bios on each of them in the rooms they’ve done upstairs.”
Dixie said the students are almost finished with the rooms upstairs, and she has a few more projects to complete before she welcomes guests
Dixie said while she always loves to decorate for the holidays and is glad to be able to share her home with guests on the Christmas Home Tour, she said the most exciting part is knowing that the efforts of the Legacy League will help deserving students get a college education.
“These scholarships can change lives, and we’re really grateful to be a part of that, even in a small way,” she said.