IT’S REFRESHING—a place where Christmas is not a deadline or a contest. Here in River Island, at the Craftsman-style home of Ed Turner and Sheryl Jolly, simplicity is the greatest detail and family is the greatest gift. Both of them are Southern born and bred—cut from the same cloth, as Turner puts it—and share a deep appreciation for traditions that are wrapped in their favorite memories. From the festive feasts and decorations to big gatherings and intimate get-togethers, their personalities and values shine through, radiating a warmth that reminds us of what makes this holiday so special.
“We try not to over-commercialize because that’s not what Christmas is all about,” says Turner, who is particularly irked by marketers’ annual crusade to drive people into a holiday frenzy by playing Christmas music on the radio and advertising shopping deals and sprees well before Thanksgiving. “It’s about love; it’s about family; it’s about being together; it’s about sharing. Christmas means caring. And that’s what we do.”
The Turner-Jolly household is truly the embodiment of the more the merrier. When the couple hosts parties in December, they typically try to invite as many people as they can, knowing that not everyone has plans for a big family shindig or even a significant other to snuggle with by the fireplace or under the mistletoe. “We did a sing-along the past two years for the court staff. I always invite the student interns because they are usually away from their families,” adds Jolly, a superior court judge for the Augusta judicial circuit. “Everyone brings a covered dish and it’s a great way to share some Southern fellowship.”
The mastermind behind Ed Turner and Number 9 band and an ever-popular veteran of the Augusta music industry, Turner naturally orchestrates the entertainment for their guests, drawing them in song around his gleaming grand piano. Holding an unyielding countenance in the living room, the instrument serves as a powerfully elegant, anchoring design element while also making a statement about the importance of music in Turner’s life. “I’ve been a musician for 40-plus years and started working at Turner’s [Keyboards] when I was 13,” he reveals in near disbelief at the passage of time. “I’ve been writing about music for 26 years. I’m a nerd. Music is not just what I do, it’s what I am.”
Christmas…the perfect opportunity to share his talents and joy…with new takes on traditional arrangements…
AND SO CHRISTMAS—a season that has inspired some of the most enchanting music our souls have known—is the perfect opportunity to share his talents and joy while discovering new takes on traditional arrangements. “He’s got a huge container of Christmas music that he collects,” says Jolly. “The container goes up after Christmas and comes down after Thanksgiving.” Although Phil Spector’s Christmas album ranks as one of the couple’s favorites, Turner never tires of finding old albums, like the Four Tops, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder, and studying how the artists transform a song crooned by many into a signature work that reflects their style and personality. He has quite the keen ear, a knack for absorbing songs anew and appreciating variances in harmony, vocals and rhythms. That’s why he’s especially excited when his many nieces and nephews (Turner is one of six children) raise their voices in song at his piano on Christmas Day. “It’s like hearing ‘Jingle Bells’ for first time—if you can imagine that—when you hear a child sing it,” he smiles.
With its open floor plan and hardwood floors, their home is supremely conducive to this type of entertaining—there is space for people to move and gather, and long pine boards against which music can richly reverberate. Like the home’s easy architecture and understated interior design, the couple’s Christmas decorations are light and natural, minimal but meaningful. You won’t find rooms blooming with bows, exploding in lights, heavily draped in garlands and tinsel, or popping with a variety of holiday accents that compete for your attention. Instead, the main first-floor rooms (kitchen, living room and dining room) are painted with bright swaths of luscious greenery woven into pine swags and garlands that Jolly usually makes using leftover tree limbs from Christmas tree yards.
The most impressive arrangement cheerfully sprays from the fireplace mantel, where a variety of cuttings—like cypress and Douglas fir—sprigs of red berries and plumes of sheer, shimmery gold ribbon join snugly together in woodland-inspired, holiday harmony. The piece de resistance of the room, however, is the towering Christmas tree, glittery and fat with oversized green, red and gold bulbs, old-fashioned foil ornaments and dozens upon dozens of handcrafted pieces Jolly’s three children made for her when they were little. Peeping out from the branches are crude but endearing kindergarten drawings of rockets and gingerbread men, stuffed cloth angels and sequined paper cut-outs.
The main tree is a traditional complement to the whimsical Number 9 tree downstairs in the music room, where, as Turner describes, “anything goes.” Aglow with multi-colored lights and shiny red bead garland, this funky, jolly masterpiece is a true testament to Turner’s affinity for the Beatles and old-school, classic music. It features a Yellow Submarine lunchbox ornament, a plethora of paper number nines bejeweled by Jolly’s daughter and, of course, 45s. “Vinyl is final!” asserts Turner, bringing his fist down on the table with a laugh. Packing the space between the signature ornaments are rotund gold and red bulbs, lighted music notes and brilliant red bows with glittering edges.
“Christmas Day for us is all about…God…family, fellowship and food.”
BACK UPSTAIRS, the more seasonal greenery continues out the living room and across the top of the piano, set with five silver-toned mint julep cups holding yellow-green Astramara bouquets. In the dining room a wreathed chandelier crowns a simply-set formal table. Every holiday for many years, Jolly received Christmas china from her mother, including a set with a basic pattern featuring holly green rims and a single, centered Christmas tree on a cream background. As the family chef, Jolly has certainly put the china to good use, serving many Christmas dinners featuring traditional Southern fare.
“Christmas Day for us is all about the reason for the season, being God, but also about family, fellowship and food. I love to cook. Usually I’ve made 27 dishes by the time I get through,” she says. “Everyone has a favorite. Somebody’s gotta have mac-and-cheese or somebody’s gotta have cream corn. Another’s gotta have butter beans.” In addition to succulent sides, Jolly also prepares ham and turkey (sometimes even a tenderloin or prime rib roast) and pecan pie. “I am the official tester of all food before it is put out for familial consumption,” pipes Turner, who just finds it too hard to ignore the mouth-watering aromas of Christmas cooking and baking in the kitchen. “It’s FC-tested as we put it. We have not lost anybody to bad food. I make sure everything is wholesome and delicious.”
While the kitchen is certainly the center of some major culinary magic, it is also in keeping with the holiday décor of the adjacent rooms. In a tiered server on the center island, shiny magnolia leaves are tucked between plump Granny Smith and gala apples, recalling a country Christmas that celebrates home-grown and the beauty of the outdoors. The top of one row of cabinets is brightened by another natural garland of fragrant Christmas tree cuttings and pops of red color in the form of Santa Claus figurines. In fact, an assortment of Santas (many of which were Jolly’s mother’s) of every shape, size and color are tucked about the house. One of the two tallest Santas stands at the hearth, closely guarding the gifts stacked under the Christmas tree. Carrying a small Teddy bear and sporting a curly, textured beard, this rendering of Saint Nick wears a soft, long red coat lined along the edges with brown fur.
Turner and Jolly are out to create new memories…
TO CONTRAST THIS traditionally crafted figure, Jolly has placed a more artistic Santa on the hall sideboard. He looks like the father of winter with his flowing pastel green robe and a snow rabbit at his side. Standing opposite him is a statuesque reindeer in a matching harness, ready to soar into the stars of a Christmas Eve night. Flanking these endearing characters are old photos of Jolly’s children on Santa’s lap or dressed up for the church Christmas play. Although they are all grown now, she has the fondest memories of Christmases past and is compelled to reminisce every year. “When the children were little I would sit up on Christmas Eve night and write hints and clues,” says Jolly. “They’d have to go hunt for their presents on Christmas morning. Their gifts might even be under the neighbor’s tree down the street. Once they got older, they really missed it when I stopped doing that.”
Turner and Jolly are out to create new memories as well. Married recently in 2011, the couple already has a lot of fresh stories to tell about making their new home together in River Island. “We like to go on picnics—we’re old fashioned,” starts Turner. “I got lost…I thought, well, we’ve never been down this road before, so we rode into River Island.” While driving around, they stumbled upon a house that they immediately fell for. “It spoke to us,” he says. “I’ve found some of the most interesting things while I’m looking for something else. It never hurts to get lost. A lot of people our age have homes in the mountains or at the beach—but ours is right here, not 20 minutes from our city house near Lake Olmstead.”
“It’s our lake house, our river house,” adds Jolly. “We’re right on the water and there’s animals galore. Every year we enjoy watching the geese fly in. We have fox, deer, all sorts of birds. We both love wildlife.” Hence their favorite “room” is the back porch, the perfect spot for star-gazing into a clear, black velvet sky. In the winter they keep cozy under plush quilts and huddle around the stone fire pit, whispering about the traditions they’ll keep and the new ones they’ll make. Whatever the plan, it will be hugs all around—not just for their family at Christmas but for the friends they meet all throughout the year.
This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.