Carrying on a family tradition
Traditions abound at Christmastime, and every family has at least one. Maybe it is foodAunt Olga’s yulekage, or Great-Grandma Lena’s kuchen. For some families the holidays wouldn’t be complete without caroling, or attending church Christmas programs. In others, decorations have been handed down over the years and are displayed with reverence and pride.
But it’s highly unlikely many families can claim the tradition of a Christmas tree. Not just any tree, mind you, but a tree that has been the centerpiece of their holiday for four generations.
Rugby’s Beatrice Hoffert is the current owner and caretaker of the special tree, which was bought by her mother, Martina Lesmeister, at C & G Hardware in 1958.
Fifty-two years ago seven-foot-tall artificial trees were a rarity, and in an age of 25 cent hamburgers and nickel candy bars, the price of the tree, $29.95, would have given many shoppers pause. But, according to Beatrice, that didn’t deter her mother. “Mom always said, ‘You get what you pay for'”, and Martina obviously believed the tree was worth every cent. But even her mother probably wouldn’t have believed the tree would still be in use over half a century later.
According to Beatrice, John Geisinger, the employee at C & G who sold the tree, told her mother, “You can’t put lights on that tree,” so for years Martina decorated it with pink glass balls and small frosted white bells. A special light with a slowly-rotating disc of multi-colored panels was placed on the floor behind the tree, creating a kaleidoscope of colors shimmering off the needles and ornaments.
Beatrice isn’t sure what the tree is made of, but it appears to be a vinyl of some sort. The needles are about one-and-one-half inches long with a slight curl. They are a glossy green with blue undertones. The tree resembles a perfectly shaped Colorado blue spruce.
Nearly forty years ago, with her children grown and not returning to Rugby for Christmas every year, Martina sold the tree to Beatrice who proudly displays it in her living room window.
The tree isn’t easy to set up or dismantle, Beatrice says. Each branch clips into the trunk and must be inserted in a specific order, unlike more modern artificial trees which can be erected in sections.
A few years after she bought it, Beatrice asked Geisinger if there were any kind of electric lights that could be used, and he sold her some low-heat bulbs that wouldn’t affect the vinyl. Beatrice laughs when recalling her mother’s reaction when she first saw the lighted tree. “She just about had a heart attack when she saw lights on it.” Beatrice’s children, Alan, Jim, Debra and Denise would occasionally help trim the tree, but her daughter, Julie, was the faithful decorator for years, and now Julie’s daughters, twelve-year-old Breanna, and Alexis, eight, have enthusiastically taken on the task. “It will go to Julie because she always decorated it,” Beatrice said of the future of the family heirloom. In fact, lest there be any confusion, she has written that bequest into her will.
Every year after Christmas the tree is taken down and lovingly put away in its original box. “The box still has the price, $29.95, on it,” Beatrice says. But that is just about the only legible writing since duct tape covers nearly every square inch of the well-used container. The box is stored on a special shelf in Beatrice’s basement awaiting yet another Christmas.
With the average life span of an artificial Christmas tree less than ten years, this would have to be considered the granddaddy of all trees. It has aged well, though, and the Hofferts believe it is as beautiful as when it was purchased. “We have taken very good care of it,” Beatrice said.
With the fourth generation eager to continue the family tradition, the much-loved tree will probably be gracing Hoffert descendants’ homes for years to come. So let other families have their lutefisk, their music, their sleigh rides. The Hofferts will stick with their antique tree.
And somewhere, Grandma Martina will be smiling.
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