It's a wonderful, new life
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, Holiday Bonus Edition

Family renews hope in Sudden Valley home

For Linda Tyler and daughter Traci Johnson, last Christmas marked a fresh start. After several difficult years, they found fun and solace in decking the halls with new Christmas decorations for Linda’s first holiday in her new home in Sudden Valley.

Married in 1964, Linda and her husband Bill had raised their family in the Dallas-Fort Worth area before relocating to Boise in 1993. In 1999 the couple started what would become a successful business measuring cabinets, blinds and floors in the Northwest.

Then Bill passed away in December 2001 after a two-year battle with melanoma. His family — Linda, her daughters Traci and Liz, and their husbands and children — was devastated.

“Christmas has always been such an important holiday for our family,” says Traci Johnson. “He said, ‘I will not die on Christmas,’ and he died the next day.”

Two weeks after Bill’s funeral in Boise, Linda’s mother, Mildred Foster, was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died in 2004.

In a cruel turn, Linda learned that she had breast cancer the month after Mildred’s death. Fortunately, after undergoing chemotherapy in 2005, she is now in remission.

After her father’s death, Traci made her mother a magnificent offer. She asked Linda to move from Boise to Whatcom County, where she had lived since 1993, into a home Traci would design and build for her.

“She wanted me to have all new everything, to start fresh,” says Linda. “My husband built homes and Traci designed them when she was only 19. She just has it — she’s got the eye.”

Traci sketched the home’s design quickly, and then set out to find the right location. In 2004, she unearthed three connected lots in Sudden Valley that were secluded and cozied up into the trees.

With a talent for defining details, Traci created a warm and inviting dream home, full of sentimental touches that celebrate Bill and Linda and their close-knit family.

For example, Traci sprinkled the master bedroom ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stars forming the exact constellation from the night her parents were married in March 1964. “It’s literally like sleeping under the stars,” says Linda.

In fact, Linda visited the site only twice before completion, once to see the land and again at the framing stage. She did have input into the furnishings, but Traci made her wait to see how everything came together.

 “I couldn’t wait,” says Linda, who now runs part of her business from a home office with a staff of two, “but Traci wouldn’t let me see it until it was finished.!

When Traci finally brought Linda to see the finished house for the first time, emotions brimmed over. “I was crying, laughing and happy all at once,” says Linda. “It was the ultimate surprise.”

The home was christened The Wildhare, a tip of the cowboy hat to Bill’s nickname, and also how the project came about: Traci had a wild hair and made it happen.

“The house has a little of all our former homes and our lives before,” she says, “but I wanted it to eliminate some of the bad memories and bring together some of the good, to replace some of the hard memories she had at her other house.”

'A joy to me'
Nowhere is that more evident than at the holidays. Getting together to decorate is an important family tradition, with carols, hot chocolate and platters of cookies.

“Because we love Christmas and all the decorating so much, Traci knew exactly where the Christmas tree would go before the house was even finished,” says Linda.

Guests enter the great room from the front door — greeted by a sparkling, rotund 4-foot-tall Santa that Traci begged to buy right off a store’s display. Sentimental holiday pieces are scattered throughout the house, such as a framed Christmas tree made of costume jewelry, created 25 years ago by Linda’s mother-in-law, Lucille Hertenberger.

The Christmas tree takes center stage in the great room. A large Texas star is displayed year-round in a coved arch above the tree.

“We also have the Texas star on top of the tree, of course," says Linda.

“I’ll tell you how particular we are about Christmas,” says Linda in her soft Texas drawl. “My husband used to get a real tree and then buy extra limbs to fill in the gaps and holes.

“Then, one year he decided the tree didn’t look full enough. So he undecorated it, took it outside, reversed an old vacuum and wafted the tree.”

Linda’s mother Mildred loved purple and all things feathery, fluffy or glittery. “Anything with bodacious attitude,” says Traci says of her grandmother. In her memory, the tree includes all of these elements.

“Christmas decorating — decorating, period — is just our thing,” says Traci. “Going out and getting everything is just as much fun as decorating and enjoying it.”

“It’s been a joy to me. It’s really special,” says Linda, looking around her festive Christmas-clad home. “I love homes with personality and this home definitely has a personality. Plus, it was built with love by my Traci.”

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.


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