Welcoming Christmas

Justin Jordan had always dreamed of living in the America Building in downtown Hattiesburg.

When he arrived in the Hub City in 1998 to attend The University of Southern Mississippi, he and friends frequented a bar called The Courtyard in downtown with the America Building always looming in the background.

“The Courtyard was a really big place in my growth at that time in my life,” he said, “just being there.”

He remembers the America, a tall multi-story structure, in a dilapidated state at the time.

“A friend of mine and I always talked about how cool it would be to live there,” he said, “with the big windows, being right there downtown and at the time you could go out onto the roof. We knew people who had parties there.”

But in 2011 Jordan moved to Austin, Texas, and while there learned that someone had bought the building back in Hattiesburg and was rehabbing it into apartments.

“I accused them of lying to me,” he said with a laugh. “Not only that, but that was right around the same time they started the Mardi Gras parade here in Hattiesburg. It was like, ‘What’s going on? Why is everything happening that I want to be a part of?’”

Jordan knew he’d eventually come back home closer to family and friends, and in 2011 the opportunity presented itself.

He continued to have thoughts in the back of his mind of living in THAT building at some point. He needed a place to live. He called, looked at one of two apartments available, signed a lease and moved in within a day or two. “

And I love that apartment,” he said.

But he may love it a little more during the Christmas holidays when it’s wrapped in all the trappings of the season.

The apartment is basically one big room with a bathroom and small bedroom, but the space limitation is not a factor for Jordan. While very small, he says every inch of the space is usable for him.

There’s no wasted hallways or dark spots in the apartment – it just all opens up to one big room. And everything he owned, including the cowhide rug, worked perfectly there, and moved seamlessly into the space.

There are exposed brick walls and a bank of large windows along the southern wall which look out onto both Front Street and the train yards, whose noise took some getting used to.

The only thing he had to purchase for his new home was a desk. As a collector of a variety of works by different artists, the high ceilings lent themselves to allow Jordan to go “up” with his art. And a Christmas tree.

Having an affinity for overly large Christmas trees his entire life, the older he got, the more he liked them even taller.

“With a tree that size it makes you feel like a kid looking up at it and it seems magical,” he said.

So when his best friend, who was in possession of a 12-foot tree, moved into a house in the historical district that had meager 8 or 9-foot ceilings and Jordan in an apartment with soaring ceilings, a Christmas tree swap was made.

 Jordan is quick to admit that maybe only 12 people saw his tree all of last season.

“I don’t have a lot of people over, no Christmas parties or anything like that,” he said. “But it’s important to me to have it.”

Jordan was 13 when his father passed away. He also had two brothers.

“It was hard when it came to holidays and things like that,” he said. “It’s always been important for me to make sure that it still feels joyous, happy and bright, because a lot of people go the exact opposite of that and shut down during the holidays. I feel like it’s important. Even if I don’t feel real excited about Christmas, once I come home to something like that it keeps you in the Christmas spirit for sure.”

Jordan’s big tree is adorned with white lights on the outer limbs of the branches, which he wraps individually, with red lights in the center of the tree, which gives it a glow.

And there may be anywhere from 2,400 to 3,000 lights on the tree. The tree must have lights or Jordan considers it dark and depressing. And once the lights go on, they don’t get cut off until the tree is ready to come down.

“My electricity bill when I have the tree up is incredible,” Jordan said. “I have the lights running 24 hours a day seven days a week, then I have to turn the air conditioner on because they emit so much heat, which is all just silly, but I want them to be on if someone drives by and happens to look up.”

As for the presents under his tree, he wants them to be just as colorful as the tree. He admits he doesn’t save wrapping paper because it’s going to get torn up or creased and he doesn’t buy big rolls. He does, however, save ribbons.

A Christmas décor fiend, for years he decorated themed trees in every room – this was the red tree, this was the woodsy tree, and so on.

But several years ago, with all these different decorations from a variety of trees, Jordan decided he wanted to mix it all together. And he did.

“There was no looking back,” he said. “I will buy any glass ornament and it doesn’t matter what color it is – the stranger or the more bright and crazy it is the better and the more I like it. It all works together.”

Last year, Jordan’s first yuletide season in the apartment, he added tinsel or icicles to the tree to make it feel even more old school.

“$19.21 worth of icicles, to be exact,” he said.

The tree took a lot of work, and a little more than a week to get it exactly to Jordan’s liking.

Not a person who is chomping at the bit to get his tree up at the first inkling of the holiday season, Jordan usually gives the tree life sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. As someone who decorates other people’s homes for the holidays, he knows if he doesn’t get his tree up prior to his paid gigs, he might not be in a frame of mind to want to put it up after that.

The first week of November the boxes were out and strewn around the apartment, but the grand plan was not in the construction phase yet.

“My absolute favorite thing is getting every box out, opening them up and spreading  all of the ornaments around – on sofas, tables and trays sitting about,” he said. “It’s just fun, like a trip down memory lane every time you do that.”

A manager at Ed’s Burger Joint, Jordan helps with holiday decorating for his friends, the St. Johns. “I’ve helped them put their tree up every year for the last 15 years or so. And even pulling their ornaments out is a trip down memory lane of “I remember when we got this one” or “this one” or “this is the one I got Holleman for this.”

There are even some red glittery ornaments that are reminiscent of a Christmas party probably 18 years or so ago that his mother attended wearing headdresses they’d all made. His mother’s was more of a halo of Christmas ornaments.

“Every time I see those red glittery ornaments it makes me smile because I think about that night, my mom coming and hanging out with us and that being on her head,” he said.

Although his tree is amply adorned with ornaments, Jordan continues to buy more.

“I don’t even lie to myself that I don’t need anymore,” he said. “I’m going to buy them. I’ve already gotten another tub full of ornaments I’ve bought this year. I see a bright sparkly ornament that I know I don’t have and I have to buy it.”

This year Jordan has been looking to add glass garlands to his tree.

“I’m not interested in changing the whole look of it,” he said. “Every year I try and think of just a little something that will add something extra, like the tinsel last year.”

He said many of his ornaments come from McKenzie’s on Main, where Ellen, his friend and the owner, isn’t surprised to see him come in and cart stuff out.

Because all of his ornaments are glass, there’s always going to be a casualty, two or three each season with all the shuffling around. It’s even become a joke between him and his friend Josh, who is also into Christmas stuff.

“He helps me and I help him and we always joke, ‘Oh, is that shatterproof?’ I just know every year I’m going to lose three or four ornaments,” Jordan said.

He also admits to being clumsy, which also lends itself to the demise of some of his glittery treasures.

Because Jordan feels one’s home should be like a scrapbook of one’s life, his loft is mixed with the old and new blended together.

He likes the older things that remind him of things of the past.

Jordan doesn’t think he could turn over the reins of his space for other people to decorate.

“I want to be able to walk through and remember when or where I got this or who this item came from,” he said. “It’s a whole hodgepodge of things. His holiday decorations are just as random as his artwork.

“It’s just stuff I love,” is the one thing they have in common.

In one corner of his “great room,” you’ll find the kitchen area.

In the 90-degree angle, a large photograph of his grandmother hangs above a minimal amount of cabinets. Next to it is a candleholder (a gift from a friend) that holds 22 candles and has never been lit “because it’s like a bonfire.”

“I love it and have had it for years and years,” he said.

 Modern stuff, an antique clock with a pastel painting of Venice behind the face, and a variety of artwork from Wyatt Waters and Opal Smith, is placed randomly up the wall.

There’s also a whimsical and kind of creepy Santa and Mrs. Claus that are positioned on a wooden box that once was home to a Panettone, an Italian cake, an elf and some other items right next to the professional series Kitchen-Aid mixer, which he just had to have.

A bishop’s throne from an estate sale sits next to the dining table, which is adorned with a large crystal vase of fresh oranges, a silver tray, which holds some crystal cut-glass ornaments that are too heavy for the tree, and Waterford crystal pieces.

In the corner of the east wall is a hutch. Positioned in and amongst the various dishes and other treasured whatnots is what Jordan calls his Trailer Park Christmas Village, reminiscent, of sorts, to one he and his mother had when he was little.

 “I thought it would be fun to stick these Christmas-themed campers in around the things already there,” he said. He also didn’t want to have to move the items already there, so he nestled them together.

Small red and white recreational campers, a family of deer, Christmas trees and the like are nestled safely among the shelves and are brightened by a strand of Florentine wooden stars with gold across the top.

“I love the miniature stuff mixed in,” he said. “It makes it so whimsical adding it among the trees in the forest. I ended up doing way more than I intended to. It grew more and more.”

Many of his treasures are finds from estate sales, the Salvation Army Thrift Store and other such venues. A blue velvet settee from the Salvation Army thrift store got new life when Jordan had it recovered. “I like the shape of it,” he said.

What appears to be a vintage wreath hangs on a overly large mirror on the west wall. Jordan purchased the wreath with the ornaments in it then added tinsel and other ornaments himself to give it an old school retro look.

“I don’t mind getting stuff and adding to it,” he said.

The mirror was one of those “have to have purchases” even though Jordan admits his finances weren’t in a place where he should be purchasing the six-foot-tall mirror for what he considered a steal.

“There’s not been one day of my life I’ve regretted getting that mirror,” he said. “It’s perfect there and you lose the scale of the room because that piece is so large.”

The cowhide rug was a souvenir from his days in Texas. Knowing he would eventually head back to south Mississippi; the rug was on his “must have” list. He purchased it from a roadside vendor, and it’s become his pet.

On a side table in the living area is placed a colorful nativity scene.

“I wish there was a fun story to go with it, but I bought it at an estate sale,” he said. “I feel guilty about that stuff sometimes, but I loved it and it was sweet.”

Another of his side tables features a collection of red votive cups in different shapes and sizes over which stands an antiqued Madonna and child.

A painting of another grandmother has a prominent place in the home’s foyer, which provides such a peaceful and inviting feeling when entering the home. A corner of the foyer is home to a Florentine column that he purchased from “down the street” when he first moved in.

The only thing that threw him a bit is the home’s front door, which is painted in a color that doesn’t blend well with a traditional Christmas red ribbon on an evergreen wreath, so Jordan opted for gold.

The home is also adorned with four Andrea Koystal paintings. When he saw her artwork displayed in a pop-up in the lobby of his building last year before the holidays Jordan knew what he was buying himself for Christmas. Instead of one, he opted for three. “It was all or nothing,” he said.

There’s also some artwork by local artist Thomas Jackson and vintage linens.

The small bedroom off the foyer is decorated with minimal furniture and holiday trappings.

In addition to the bed is a piece of furniture that once served as the original busser station from the old Crescent City Grill.

“I had worked for years and years in that building and they were going to throw it away when they got a new one,” Jordan remembers. “The back leg had broken off and been in the drawer for years. “I can’t remember how many days/years I stood behind that piece thinking about how much I hated my life.”

Jordan cleaned the piece up, giving it new life and now considers it “perfect.”

The gold mirror on top is another find from the Salvation Army.

A simple wreath and a vintage statue of Mary and Joseph came from Blooms.

“The décor is just a nod to Christmas and makes me happy in this room,” he said.

At times Jordan has wished for a mantle to decorate. Years ago when he and a roommate moved into a new apartment complex, they built a mantle because they wanted one to decorate.

“Silly, but we did it,” he said, “That was when we were putting trees in every room.”

It’s obvious that Christmas is Jordan’s favorite holiday.

“It’s really the only holiday I decorate for,” he said.

And he does it so well.


Photos by Lee Cave / C Studio