Bozwell Photography for Country WomanAll Katherine Bates Jones wanted for her 90th birthday was to own her childhood home. Her daughter, Emily Sims, wasn’t so keen on the idea; it seemed unwise for a nonagenarian to enter the real estate market. And, as the old saying goes, you can never really go home again. But the mom and daughter often drove from their current town of Greenville, South Carolina, to cruise past Katherine’s beloved old home in nearby Gaffney. While admiring the charming one-story dwelling she was born in, Katherine would say, “I’d like to have that house back.” (If you’re curious about longevity, find out which month’s babies are most likely to live until 100.)
One day, as Emily strolled down the dollhouse aisle of her local craft store, inspiration struck: Her mother could have her house back—in replica form. Emily’s friend Thomas McAbee connected her with Ray Meyers, a local retired dentist with a talent for woodworking. Ray paid multiple visits to the original home, taking precise measurements and compiling details with the help of the current homeowners.
David Sims for Country WomanThere’s the inviting front porch where Katherine and her mother, Nettie, spent hot summer nights cooling off before bed. There’s the little door to a nook beneath the pantry window in which Nettie stored her canned green beans, tomatoes, and jars of apple jelly. On the replica home, that door conceals three C batteries that power tiny, twinkling interior lights. Small stones line the base of the miniature house, echoing the large river rocks that Katherine’s uncle had once hauled up from his farm to underpin the foundation of the original. And there’s a teeny flute on an itty-bitty table in the replica’s hallway. (Read about this vintage dollhouse that changed a girl’s life.)
That flute set the soundtrack for Katherine’s life: She was proudly playing it in Gaffney High School’s marching band when she met Malcolm “Mack” Jones. The two musicians connected after the 1942 Spartanburg Christmas Parade. Mack, a horn and trumpet player in the Spartanburg High School band, proved to be the perfect accompaniment for Katherine; the two were married on January 1, 1946. Emily was born soon after.
David Sims for Country WomanThe replica home and the amazing story behind it deserved an impressive unveiling. Emily arranged a surprise party at which the miniature and Katherine would be honored. But keeping the big secret about the little house was a tough task.
“Ray would ask me questions about the house,” Emily says of the planning process. “The last time I was inside was when I was a teenager, so I couldn’t remember everything. I would visit with Mother and start a conversation where I would say, ‘Oh, by the way, do you remember…’ and ask her something about the house. She would give details from her memory about the color and the layout. She would tell me exactly what something looked like or where it was in the house.”
On August 28, 2016, Emily gathered 40 friends and family members at her house. The partygoers waited while Emily’s daughter-in-law, Christie, took Katherine out to lunch.
After the special birthday meal, Christie brought Katherine to Emily’s house.
“When we went inside, there was a house full of people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me,” Katherine says. “I was just shocked.”
Bozwell Photography for Country WomanKatherine’s many friends, siblings, grandsons and great-grandchildren packed the party. Emily and Thomas presented Katherine with the carefully wrapped replica home. It was the perfect gift.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Katherine says. “Now, the replica sits in the middle of my dining room table. I have fond memories of that house. I have had several family dinners where we eat around it. I can turn on the tiny lights within it. It’s so pretty.”
For Katherine, it turns out that it is possible to go home again.