Perhaps Brandon Woollam was "born" to collect nutcrackers. Having a December birthday, the Pottsville 12-year-old shares some commonalities with the 157 nutcrackers he keeps in his collection. They reflect precious memories with relatives, bonds with friends and a kaleidoscope of entertaining possibilities.
"I like how they're made, the different styles they have on them, and mostly, their mouth opening. I enjoy that," he said, while demonstrating the chomping motion via a lever on one of the character's backs.
A few nutcrackers have borne the brunt of his boyhood, creative play; some are missing a piece of their regal stature, or even missing part of an arm. Most are made of wood or plastic, with cloth accents. They're not the German, Steinbach versions sought after by nutcracker aficionados, however, most are beautiful reproductions Brandon cherishes. He has collectibles that stand three feet tall, and some that are only three inches tall.
A son of Jeff and Kim Woollam, Brandon said his family begins displaying his collection at their 2133 Woodglen Road home a week after Thanksgiving.
Many of his nutcrackers resemble brightly painted kings and soldiers, others look like Santas and snowmen.
His most unusual piece, he believes, came from his "Pop Pop" Robert Woollam, Saint Clair. It's a nutcracker cheerleader, dressed in Pottsville Crimson Tide red and white.
"My pop pop got me this. You wouldn't expect this," he said. Brandon looks at the tag on the bottom, and said he thinks his grandfather got it from St. Nicholas's Square.
He believes one of the two Donald Duck nutcrackers given to him by his great uncle, Jim Pothering, is among the oldest.
"I don't think I was alive when this one was made," Brandon said. The duck characters open at their beaks.
Brandon's favorite of the bunch is a three-foot tall, blue-uniformed soldier nutcracker. He likes it, he said, because of its size.
"It's the biggest one. I got it for my birthday from Aunt Donna (Freeman) last year." He also thinks it, or the light-up crystal-looking nutcrackers, may be the most valuable.
Some of the nutcrackers mark milestones in Brandon's life, and have become invaluable. A colorful, nutcracker night light he treasures came from his late grandmother, Maryann Woollam, who passed away earlier this year. This will be Brandon's first Christmas without her. His "Pap Pap" Jim Melenchick and "Nana" Bonnie Melenchick, of Llewellyn, too, have supported Brandon's interest, and have helped him amass his collection.
Other collectibles reflect Brandon's love of sports, his "appreciation" for music and his sense of humor. Brandon, who played center field this November on the Pottsville Striking Savages championship soccer team, has a nutcracker who looks ready for a soccer game. He's wearing black shorts, and sporting straggly hair and a goatee that humorously moves when the nutcracker's mouth is opened. Brandon, who is a baseball pitcher, catcher and shortstop, also has a baseball nutcracker.
"Most of them are gifts, but sometimes, I'll pick them out. This is one I picked out," he said, showing a Santa with a beach theme, who's wearing a sun hat and holding a beach ball. There's also a trumpet-playing teddy bear nutcracker in the collection. Brandon noted that his sister, Lauren, 15, and his "Pap Pap" Melenchick are musicians. "I used to play the trumpet, but I got kicked out," he admitted.
It was actually a gift his older brother, Bryce, now 17, received from their late, great-aunt, Jean Jeske, that got Brandon hooked on nutcrackers.
"My brother, he wasn't using it, so I got it and started to use it and put it into my collection. When I first saw this one, that was the first one. They were unusual and interesting to me, and that's why I started collecting them," Brandon said, while holding Jeske's gift, a gold-toned nutcracker resembling a solider king.
Several nutcrackers donned camouflaged uniforms, and resembled American service members. Most of those Army soldier nutcrackers came from his grandfathers, Brandon said.
"One of my friends, Aiden Kostyal, he started collecting them after he saw all of them I had," Brandon said.
Aiden supplies him with a new one every year, his mother said. Brandon has also made some of his own nutcrackers. His "Pop Pop" bought him a collection of ceramic ones that you paint, his mother said, and he gave two to Aiden as a gift.
Bonnie Melenchick said the glass-looking nutcrackers are her favorites in Brandon's collection. She enjoys helping her grandson with his hobby, she said. "I thought it was a cute thing and something that he could pass on to his children."
The variety of Brandon's collection has items shaped-like, or adorned with nutcrackers including: a slate, announcement board; cookie jar; one wearing a Mexican sombrero; a pirate; a cowboy; music box; ornaments; soap dispenser; M&M dispenser; snow globe; tea bag steeper; mugs; chair cover; snow globe; a Scottish one playing the drums; a fisherman with a creel and fishing pole; stockings; lit candles; card tins; a Advent nutcracker which holds numerical blocks marking off the days until Christmas; and even dog toys shaped like nutcrackers that the family's three-year-old Pomeranian, "Meesha" enjoys.
Brandon's actually tried to see if some of his collectibles could meet the nut-cracking challenge. "One time we did over at nan's house. We took a few and we tried to crack them open." He couldn't remember how well they actually worked, he said.
He looks for nutcrackers in stores, or Christmas tree shops, and from Christmas Village in Bernville. He's also been to New York City's Rockefeller Plaza.
Kim Woollam expressed her gratefulness in finding something that brings her son such joy.
"I like watching him play with them and enjoy them. They're not just to look at. I don't say, 'Don't touch them.' If he wants to sit and play with them, he does, and there have been casualties ... clearly," his mother said.
"I do play war with them," Brandon said.
Brandon's wishlist this year included some additions.
"I'd like a football nutcracker and a basketball nutcracker. I don't know why, but I'd like a Toy Story one. It just seems like it would be really funny."