By Tim Leeds
For a person driving down the streets of Havre, the spirit of Christmas is obvious. Houses are dressed with lights and decorations. Santas, sleighs and snowmen rest on lawns and roofs. Displays of candy canes and wreaths and other decorations abound in the town.
But perhaps none are as unique as Bertie Moore's collection of decorations.
Her collection is the result of 73 years of making and collecting decorations. Moore, who is 95, made her first decoration in 1928 when she was living in Great Falls.
"I love hobbies, just love 'em," she said. "This is my love."
Moore has made many ornaments over the years, for herself or her family and friends. She began selling them only about 20 years ago. She makes the ornaments in a little room just off of her kitchen, a room about 4 by 5 feet wide that used to be a pantry.
"I work in here almost every day," she said.
The ornaments are meticulously detailed, with ribbons, beads, tiny figures and more. The workshop's shelves, which leave Moore a space about 3 feet wide to work in, are stacked with boxes, all clearly labeled, sorting a variety of supplies. Moore makes some of her own supplies, like tiny Christmas packages, and buys others.
She said she bought many of her supplies 20 to 30 years ago and they're no longer available. When she buys supplies, she stocks up, buying 144 at a time.
"I don't stop with just 10 or 12," she said.
The designs for the ornaments are her own. Sometimes she might take an idea from something else, but the final ornament is her creation.
"That just comes natural to me," she said.
Selling the ornaments is relatively new to Moore's ornament career.
"Most I've given away, some I've sold," she said about the countless ornaments she's made in the last 73 years.
The ornaments are hot sellers, too, and she is quite willing to sell them.
"I sell 'em right off the tree if they ask," she said. "Only one woman ever asked."
Moore said she recently sold all of the more than 20 ornaments she'd made in the last three weeks. She sold 22 to one woman shortly after she moved to Havre in July, she added.
The price of the ornaments varies by how much material and effort they take to make. Moore said she sells most for $6 to $10, with some ranging up to $15.
It takes Moore about 10 hours to make the more complicated ornaments, much longer than it used to. She said she doesn't have any feeling in her fingers anymore, and that more than doubles the four hours or so it used to take her to make one.
"Old age makes a difference too," she said.
Hobbies have been a way of life for Moore. Making ornaments is about all she does now, but quilting, making clothes, collecting stamps and many other hobbies also used to fill her days.
Moore retired from her main hobby, calling square dances, to start making the ornaments for sale. She said square dance calling still holds a special place in her heart.
"That was one of my highlights of glory," she said.
Seeing the fun a caller could bring to dancers lined up in 20 squares is what made calling a joy, she said. She had a long history in that activity, too, starting at dances near her family's ranch outside of Big Sandy. Her mother played the organ, and would play at dances starting at 9 p.m. and lasting until breakfast at 5 a.m.
Moore, the oldest of seven children, was born in Amenia, N.D., and her family move to Big Sandy in 1913. Of her six brothers and sisters, only the youngest, her sister Erna Ramberg of Chinook, is the only one who has collected her ornaments.
She moved to Havre this summer to live next door to her son, Earl Courtnage.
"I needed help," Courtnage said about his mother's moving to Havre.
Moore said she has about 50 of her ornaments on her tree, Courtnage has 40 or more on his, and Ramberg has many more displayed on hers. Moore has many other ornaments and collectibles displayed in her home. Around the base of the tree is a miniature village, with houses and other features she has collected over the years.
Dorothy Wilson, Moore's daughter, said the houses and decorations were a major part of her life growing up.
"I grew up with this village. It's just unbelievable," she said. "Each year she puts it up, she adds at least one new thing."
A cabinet in her living room is full of figurines and other items.
Many of those will soon be gone, though. Moore said she plans to sell many of her collectibles at a rummage sale in the spring. Her Christmas decorations might be included in the sale too. Moore said it takes her too long to set the decorations up anymore. But she might not sell all of them.
"I don't know if this will be the last year or not," she said.