TO ANYONE entering the Miller house, the wooden Santa hanging on the door is a hint of what awaits them inside. Santas. Lots of them.
Frank and Althea Miller lost count after 80, and their collection is steadily growing. The Santa figurines can be found in every room in the house, with every tabletop, mantel, piano and bookcase decorated by the bright red of his coat and white of his beard. Santas are tucked behind doors, in corners and on top of lamps.
Plastic, wooden, metal, glass, fabric, ceramic, all shapes and sizes, the Santas are all part of a recent collecting craze of Mrs. Miller. After retiring as Mount Airy Elementary School principal five years ago, she started collecting Santas.
She remembers the purchase in Bismarck, N.D., of a small Santa holding a soda bottle as the first addition to a few treasured Santas passed down from her mother and mother-in-law.
Never intending to start a collection, Mrs. Miller let a year pass before she bought another Santa. After that, there was no holding her back.
Hardly a vacation comes and goes without at least one or two Santas finding their way into her suitcase. She figures that at least 50 percent of her collection has come from the couple's travels around the country. Neighbors, friends and family have contributed the rest.
Mr. Miller says he merely encourages his wife's obsession. "He never says no," said Mrs. Miller, adding that it is Mr. Miller who can remember where and when each Santa was bought, or who gave it as a gift.
In previous years it would take Mrs. Miller several days to arrange the Santas in groupings throughout the house, and she would never begin decorating before Thanksgiving.
This year, she invited her sons, Bill and Bob, and her grandchildren to help unpack and arrange the collection, hoping to establish a new Christmas tradition for her family. One ground rule was set for the evening, though -- she reserved the right to move the Santas to different locations if she desired.
With so many different Santas to choose from, it's usually the facial expression of the figure that appeals to Mrs. Miller. Her collection includes traditional, modern and folk art replicas, ranging in height from 1 inch to more than 2 feet. When asked to pick her favorite Santa, she thinks long and hard and then is able to narrow it down to only four or five, saying that her favorites change from day to day.
"I love sharing them," she says. "I have no plans to stop as long as I can keep finding a place to display and store them."
Santa in Winfield
Santa isn't limiting himself to traveling by sleigh and reindeer this Christmas. He will arrive by fire engine at Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department tomorrow.
The visit is part of the Fire Department's annual open house, which is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Santa will be joined by McGruff the Crime Dog, the Crash Dummies and a state police bloodhound.
Also available will be fire prevention literature and videos, blood pressure screening, a demonstration of a seat belt condenser, carbon monoxide education and a tour of the station. Take your VTC camera for the children's picture with Santa.
Committee chairwoman Debbie Gartrell planned the department's open house to coincide with the Christmas season because accidents and fires that are preventable increase during the holidays and winter months.
Information: (410) 875-9587.
Ring in the new
American Legion Gold Star Post 191 is sponsoring its annual New Year's Eve dinner and dance at the post at 801 Prospect Road in Mount Airy.
The evening will begin at 7 p.m. with a roast beef and ham dinner. The band Pure Country will provide music for dancing starting at 9 p.m. Guests are invited to welcome 1996, and breakfast will be served after midnight.
Ticket prices are $22, and a cash bar will be open all evening. For tickets or additional information, call Bob Lowman at (301) 829-1510 or the post at (301) 829-9161, after 3 p.m.
New fire company officers
Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department has elected new officers for 1996.
The new officers are: chief, Tim Warner; first assistant chief, Ron Legore; second assistant chief, John Poole; captain, Jim Zuna; first lieutenant, Tim Legore; second lieutenant, Roger Arrowood; captain, Rodney Valentine; E.M.S. lieutenant, Dave Bettinger; president, Gary Rains; vice president, Howard Legore; secretary, Kim McKenzie; assistant secretary, Tina Murphy; treasurer, Scott Dayhoff: and assistant treasurer, Sandy McKenzie.
Two new additions to the 1996 board of directors are Doug Dayhoff and Allison Arrowood.
L The department's annual awards banquet will be held Jan. 27.
Christy Kruhm's Southwest Neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.