Get out those hankies. One of the most beloved traditions in soaps, the decorating of the Horton Christmas tree on Days of Our Lives, will be a lot less cheerful this year due to the death of two major family members. Mickey, last played by Kevin Dobson, was killed off by the writers in January. Then grande dame Alice passed away in June, several months after the death of actress Frances Reid, who portrayed the feisty matriarch since Days debuted in 1965. But Salem's premiere clan is determined to press on and make the best of the holidays. TV Guide Magazine got the scoop from Melissa Reeves, who recently returned to Days after a four-year absence as Alice's granddaughter Jennifer Rose.
TV Guide Magazine: What was it like it trying to make merry with all that death and so few Hortons left in Salem?
Reeves: It was hard when we shot the Christmas episodes [airing December 24 and 27] because the Horton living room felt so empty. Bo and Hope are on the run. Jennifer's husband, Jack, is on a walkabout in Australia. Her kids are snowed in at Heathrow airport. But the few Hortons who are left — Doug, Julie, Aunt Maggie — are not going to break with tradition because of troubles and tribulations. They make sure every ornament is hung on that tree because that's what Hortons do! It was very sweet and sad at the same time.
TV Guide Magazine: We get all blubbery just thinking about those ornaments, each with the name of a Horton family member. As far as family traditions go, there's nothing comparable on TV.
Reeves: And you know what? We've never broken one of them! Each is an heirloom piece. And many of them have been around for decades. It's incredible history! Every time the prop department brings out that box it triggers so much emotion in all of us, especially this year because we all miss Frances so much. We've kept her chair on the set — her place of honor — and none of us ever sits in it. I don't know that we ever will.
TV Guide Magazine: You, your husband Scott Reeves [Dr. Steven Webber on General Hospital] and your kids had been living in Tennessee before you both returned to soaps. You still keeping your home there?
Reeves: Oh, yes! In fact, we're all getting in a big ole truck and driving there for Christmas. We love it. We love the people, the serenity, the simple life. It's been a great place to raise children. L.A. can seem like excess — excess everything. But I'm glad our kids got to experience both. There are certain things about L.A. I wouldn't trade for anything.
TV Guide Magazine: How was it giving up show biz?
Reeves: It did me good. Living in the country where you're not being pampered and worshipped is very humbling. It was so good for us to go where we were not spoiled. It changes you. It softens you. This industry feeds your ego and you start thinking you're really something. Now Scott and I laugh and say, "Who did we think we were?"
TV Guide Magazine: In your mind, had you said goodbye to Days forever?
Reeves: When we moved to Tennessee I said to Scott, "I have to be ready for that call about Frances," because I knew we'd probably lose her while living down there and that I'd need to get on a plane and go and say goodbye. And that's, in fact, what brought me back to the show for a little bit. Then, with Scott having taken the job on GH, I found myself in California with him really bored with nothing to do, so I whispered to Days that I was ready to come back to work full-time. I really missed acting.
TV Guide Magazine: When you returned for Alice's death watch you were a new Missy Reeves — a deeper, richer, more mature actress with this tremendous earth mama energy. There is so much more soul to your work now. You've always been great, but now you've gone to a whole other place. What happened?
Reeves: [Laughs] Maybe mucking all those barn stalls made me a different person! Every life experience changes you. We have an 18-year-old daughter now — can you believe it? And our son is 13! So, of course, all those years of mothering can't help but show up in the performance. I wish everyone had the chance to go live in the country for a few years, to work the land and raise your children and be home every night for dinner. We had the most incredible family time. Now I've come back feeling much more grateful for the work. Scott and I never thought we'd be returning to soaps. We thought we'd left the scene so many times that surely none of the shows would ever have us back. So, yeah, we've really changed.
TV Guide Magazine: To the point where we can now see Jennifer as someone to fill Alice's shoes. We also look to Maggie [Suzanne Rogers] for that. You two are the heirs to the throne, the ones to go to for wisdom and guidance now that Alice, and Frances, are gone.
Reeves: That would be the greatest gift, to fill Frances' shoes and to fill them well. [Laughs] They're big shoes to fill! She taught me everything I know, so I would love that honor. I know Suzanne feels the same way. The Horton set feels so real to us. It feels like home. I'm blessed to have been a part of this for so many years. [Sighs] You know, when you're younger you don't realize what you're a part of. You don't appreciate tradition and care that much about history and how incredible it all is. But I sure do care about it now! I love getting older. I really do.