When Lesley Oslica of Conway looked for her family’s treasured Christmas decorations this season, including four special Nativity sets, her heart sank.
They were missing.
Lesley, 48, said she believes the Nativity sets — one she’d had since she was a child — vintage family stockings and more were accidentally donated to the St. Joseph Flea Market in Conway.
She and her husband, Connie, sold their home in Bigelow in late August, she said, and moved to a rental house in Conway.
“It was an insanely busy time,” she said. Lesley, president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, was also in charge of a big gala that was three weeks away.
“I was moving 12 years’ worth of stuff, trying to get ready for the gala, and our closing date had changed three times,” she said.
“The last day, we’re moving the last set of boxes, and we had taken truckloads of stuff to the St. Joe Flea Market,” she said.
You see where this is going.
“One side of the trailer was going to the storage building; one side was going to
St. Joseph,” said Oslica, who is a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway.
She pointed to a few boxes, including the blue tubs that held special Nativity sets and the family’s stockings.
Lesley said she told her husband, “You ought to take those in the truck.”
“He said, ‘Ahh, it’ll be all right.’”
“Everyone is so kind at the flea market; they come help you unload,” she said.
Connie said the boxes might have slid around in the trailer and gotten mixed up, too.
“We made a dozen trips or more to St. Joe — we did a lot of purging,” Connie said.
The Oslicas are living in a rental house while building a home in Conway.
During the first week of December, Lesley started getting out her Christmas decorations.
She couldn’t find the tubs with the decorations.
Lesley said they have 60 boxes stacked in the garage of their rental home.
“Just to appease my heart and my mind, I made him open all those boxes,” she said of her husband. “We have searched repeatedly.”
Then she thought of the flea market.
“I go to St. Joe’s, and I’m hoping beyond hope that I don’t see something, because if I see something, that means my box came through there,” she said.
“I see this Santa Claus candle that I bought in Louisiana. … I just started crying because that meant everything had come and gone,” she said.
Lesley told a staff member at the flea market her story.
She said the woman told her that people often accidentally donate items, and they would have been held for a couple of weeks, “but it was August, and I didn’t realize it was missing till December,” Lesley said.
The four Nativity sets meant a lot to her family, Lesley said.
“The first year we married, we were very poor, and we won this Nativity set at bingo,” she said.
This Christmas was their 30th as a married couple, Lesley said.
That set has “tall, white slender” ceramic figurines that are probably 10 inches tall, she said.
Because they had nowhere to display it at that time, Connie gave the set to his grandmother, and they enjoyed it at her home.
“When she passed away — she was 105 — she made sure her daughter gave it to us,” Lesley said.
The second Nativity set was their family set, a Fontanini brand. Lesley said her mother bought the creche, and “we added to it through the years.”
“It was our big Christmas tradition to unwrap the Nativity set and see who got baby Jesus,” Lesley said.
Connie said that’s the part he enjoyed about the decorations — the memories they brought.
“Every Christmas when you get them out, you start telling stories. That’s part of the deal,” he said.
“Lesley is really sentimental about stuff, and I’m not nearly … but she is important to me, so when something hurts Lesley, I don’t like that,” he said.
Another Nativity set was given to Lesley as a child.
“My grandma was the kind of person if you went to her house and said you liked something, she’d say, ‘Just take it now,’” Lesley said.
“She had this little glass jar with these little tiny bronze-colored figurines, and I just loved it. She gave that to me as a little kid, and that was in there,” she said.
Another crystal set was “just beautiful,” she said. “My Aunt Jane, who is so sweet — she doesn’t do a lot of Christmas decorations — and she said [the Nativity] was too beautiful not to be seen, and she gave it to me.” The crystal pieces were in individual boxes with red padding, Lesley said.
She has photos of the family’s decorations, but they’re buried somewhere in one of those 60 boxes in her garage.
“All of our pictures are also in storage till we finish building our house,” she said.
“The last thing that was lost, and that’s when I nearly got sick and walked out crying, was a red-velvet stocking, and my grandmother hand-embroidered it when my mom was pregnant with me,” Lesley said.
She’d had that stocking since 1965.
Lesley said she was told that if personalized items aren’t claimed, they’re often thrown away.
“I said, ‘No, don’t say that.’”
“I said, ‘Who would need a stocking with Lesley on it?’”
Lesley said the St. Joseph volunteer told her someone could take out those stitches and sew another name on it.
Also gone are stockings that belonged to their grown children: daughter Katie, 22, and son Ren, 27.
Ren is the more sentimental of the two, Lesley said, and he is upset about the missing decorations.
She put her plea on Facebook, and people texted her photos of items they’d bought at the bazaar that they thought might be hers.
None of them was.
“I try not to let my heart be hardened. I think, well, they’re blessing someone’s home,” she said.
Part of her wonders if a flea-market or antiques dealer bought her things to resell, “but they’re blessing him, because he got a good deal,” she said, laughing.
“I’d be glad to buy them back for whatever they bought them for.”
She has her one candle, but she’s thought about getting rid of it.
“It reminds me how much is gone,” she said. “At the same time, I’m very thankful that I didn’t lose everything to a fire. It’s the memories and people who gave them to me that’s most important.
“I feel so self-absorbed even talking about this when other people are struggling.”
Still, she said, it sure would be nice to have “a little Christmas miracle” and get her things back.
Anyone who has information on the items is asked to call the Oslicas’ home phone at (501) 205-0711.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.