Bell native goes to Washington

Published 2:18 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2017

One beloved Bell County, Kentucky, resident got the chance to accomplish a lifelong goal as she graciously represented the area on a national level, proving that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.

“The entire experience was even more amazing than I thought it would be. There was absolutely no let down for me, and it was tremendous to be able to do something so great at the White House,” said Marilou “Piddle” Johnson, who recently made her dream a reality when she traveled to Washington, D.C. to help decorate the White House for the holiday season.

The desire to decorate on such an extraordinary level began many years ago for Johnson. While today she is best known throughout the community for the work she does with her famous Bookmobile, the librarian once co-owned a florist shop with her mother, Barbara Grace, who first introduced Johnson to her love of design.

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For years, Johnson would stare longingly at her television screen as several upscale holiday decorative programs were shown. Although she knew it wasn’t quite feasible at the time, she always kept a desire to be a part of something so great in the back of her mind.

After researching the idea, Johnson found that the White House accepts applicants each year to help decorate for the holidays. However, she claims she never believed she would truly fulfill such a goal, as it would require a rather large sum of savings, as well as free time that Johnson simply didn’t have at the time.

Upon receiving her newly found position at the Bell County Public Library, Johnson found herself with more spare time, which resulted in a rather simple, yet important, New Year’s Resolution for the Pineville native: to — at the very least — apply for the opportunity she’d sought after for so long.

“I just decided that I didn’t want to wake up one day and wonder ‘what if’, so I gave it my best shot. I thought, whether they chose me or not, at least I would have given it an attempt,” said Johnson. “I didn’t expect to be chosen, so you can imagine my surprise when I got the news. It just proves that you’re never too old and it’s never too late to follow your dreams.”

Soon after receiving the news, Johnson boarded a plane to experience her own dream come true. Overwhelmed with honor, she had the opportunity to work with skilled decorators and designers from all across the nation (many of whom she continues to keep in touch with) to decorate a total of 52 live trees throughout the building.

During her adventure, she got to witness first-hand all of the dedication that goes into preparing the White House for the season, as well as many interesting facts and tricks regarding the process. For example, each ornament is either wired or tied onto the tree with ribbon, as no hooks are used; they also reuse ornaments from past years in order to keep the budget at a reasonable level.

According to Johnson, First Lady Melania Trump not only did an exceptional job of planning the color schemes and decor that they would use, but she also managed to bring her own sense of elegance into the White House with several creative ideas, such as the use of green decor in the East Room to place the centered focus on the Nativity scene.

“I think Mrs. Trump’s class and elegant style are evident in the White House decorations, especially the East Room. She used a monochromatic color scheme that is gorgeous, but leaves the focal point on the large portraits of George and Martha Washington and the Nativity. It’s brilliant,” said Johnson. “In my opinion, everyone has their own talents and Mrs. Trump’s is beauty. She certainly knows what looks good and what is appropriate.”

Following the three-day decorating period, U.S. Congressman Harold Rogers even granted permission to Johnson to bring two of her close friends along to be the first to tour the newly decorated Presidential Palace.

Throughout the entire experience, Johnson says she was overwhelmed with the utmost honor to be a part of something so special alongside countless fellow Americans working towards the same goal, all the while making memories that will live in her heart forever.

“One thing that was really special to me about the experience was that, despite all of the differences in the country, this wasn’t about politics or who was elected, but the honor of using your gift to decorate the White House,” Johnson said. “Everyone was working together and wanted it to be as perfectly beautiful that it could be. I loved being around so many people with that mindset. We all came together to give to America.”

A television special demonstrating the behind-the-scenes work that went into the decorative process — as well as the final outcome — aired on HGTV on Dec. 10. This was one special that Johnson will not have to gaze at longingly, as she can be spotted several times throughout the program, with the work put in by her and her fellow decorators on full display.