BETHLEHEM When Ken Mortensen retired 20 years ago, he needed a hobby.
His wife, Jeanette, demanded it.
“I was alphabetizing the contents of the kitchen pantry,” said Ken. “It didn’t go over well. My wife said, ‘Find a hobby, or get a job.'”
So, he found a hobby.
On display throughout Ken and Jeanette’s 1500 square-foot ranch are more than 170 different miniature Christmas village scenes. That doesn’t count the towns’ people who walk the streets, or those that stand in front of the pubs, or the two guards in front of Buckingham Palace. “I have 50 more [scenes] in the basement, but we’d have to build another house to fit them all in,” said Ken.
Each year, Ken takes over the house: The living room, the dining room, the office, the spare room and, yes, the kitchen, too.
Jeanette looked upon her husband with a smile as he was busy pointing out facts, she undoubtedly knew herself, to a first-time visitor. Under the front bay window was a table, with several rows of miniature buildings, most depicting scenes pulled out of stories from Charles Dickens or paintings from Norman Rockwell. They accompany miniatures atop the shelves that flank the chimney, and those that stand atop the reinforced mantle. A collection of romantic visuals of a White Christmas, in a town of Ken’s making, frozen in time – except for the couples spinning away in the dance hall. Underneath it all, a couple of power strips with cords meandering back to Ken’s village.
How many power strips do you use?, Ken is asked.
“We don’t talk about that,” he said, eliciting a chuckle from his wife. “Just as we don’t talk about the electric bills, either.”
Who pays the bills?
Ken pointed. “I do,” said Jeanette, with another chuckle.
If someone found it necessary to place blame for this extravagance, Jeanette would have to be considered at least an accomplice; she gifted her husband with the first scene in 1986, with a model of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim’s home from Dicken’s, “A Christmas Carol.” When asked if she had thought her husband’s hobby would go as far as it has, she said, “no.”
Ken plans out his display about a week after Halloween, for which he also has another, albeit, smaller display. From there he continuously tweaks here and there throughout the holiday. “It’s a labor of love,” he said, which sometimes calls for him to work four hours a day, followed by a break to watch the ballgame or read a book. It’s a love the two share with the children around town, and those with their church.
The children are treated to a scavenger hunt, of sorts. A group of mice are scattered throughout the display. The Mortensens supply the children with flashlights to scan the area to find each one. Ken continuously keeps note of where each of them are, as he often changes their locations as they are found.
“To me, see, I just don’t have that ability,” said Jeanette, speaking of her husband. “It’s something you’re born with.”