Every Christmas season, year in and out, Ray Elias climbed the large spruce in the front yard of his Holly Lane home, decorated it and otherwise made it look perfect for the holiday season, much to …
Every Christmas season, year in and out, Ray Elias climbed the large spruce in the front yard of his Holly Lane home, decorated it and otherwise made it look perfect for the holiday season, much to the delight of the countless neighborhood kids who saw it in all its glory every year. This year, Elias handed over the final year’s decorating duty to the Westport Land Conservation Trust.
Last Monday, workers from Whipple Tree Experts in Portsmouth arrived at Elias’s home, carefully cut down the 49-year-old tree and brought it to the trust’s headquarters on Adamsville Road, where it was propped up, decorated and will light the holidays one last time.
“It’s sad for me to see it go,” Elias said. “My son said, ‘You’re not going to get rid of it, are you?’ I said, ‘I’m 75. I’ve gotta stop climbing this tree.'”
The tree's life as a holiday centerpiece began with Elias’s wife’s grandfather, Manny Santos, nearly 50 years ago. Santos, the brother of John Santos Sr. and Gilbert Santos, who donated land for the Town Fields and owned the Santos farm on Main Road, spotted it growing on the side of the road, dug it up and planted it in Elias’s front yard in 1974.
Back then, “it was just a twig,” Elias said.
But it looked nice, and it grew quickly.
“We planted it near the driveway, and it kept going. My wife at the time (Susan) used to trim it with hand trimmers. When it got bigger I started to do it with a ladder and the next thing you know, I was doing it with a 24-foot ladder.”
Shaped every Spring by Susan and decorated by Ray each holiday, the tree was perhaps as well known as Elias himself, a lifelong Westporter who is vice chairman of the Agricultural Trust, serves on the zoning board of appeals and has been involved in youth sports here for many years.
Last year, Elias started thinking about donating the spruce to the land trust, as the owners of another large tree on Drift Road did that year. Though he loves the tree, he said it was getting so big that it blocked his and visitors’ views entering and exiting the driveway, and that represented a safety issue.
This year, a large hole was dug on the front lawn of the trust’s Kirby House and, after being transported to the site, the tree was put in place by the Whipple crew. Land trust workers decorated it afterwards, and the tree is now lit for the holiday season. It will remain up through January, and the trust’s Ross Moran said there are plenty of ornaments inside Kirby House if anyone wants to stop by, take one and hang it.
Ross said he's happy to have received Elias's gift, and the trust’s Charlotte Greeson wrote that it's not just a tree, but "a symbol of the work of the Elias and Santos family on the Elias farm and also of the contributions Ray has made to Westport, most significantly to the generations of youth sports."
Elias said Monday that he hasn’t yet seen the spruce in its decorated glory, but plans to go down one night this week to have a look.
“I’ll miss it,” he said. “But I’m sick of climbing to the top. I’m 75 and I did it again this year!”