By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle
WILLIAMSBURG — After 55 years of incremental change, the view from Wayne Stites' front window altered dramatically Friday.
The lifelong 73-year-old Williamsburg resident and his dad planted a sapling in June 1955 that will spend this season as a Christmas tree 1,300 miles away. The 60-foot-tall blue spruce is heading to Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas, after Fred Pyse, of Mesquite, Texas, and his crew cut, baled and loaded the tree onto a semitrailer.
"It's sad to see it go, but a lot of people are going to enjoy it," Stites said.
Stites is the youngest of 10 children raised by Albert and Macy Stites. He grew up on the family homestead across Broomhead Road from the tree. Except for three years in the service, Stites has lived either in or next to his parents' house all his life.
He was 17 when he helped his dad plant two 12-inch seedlings flanking the front of a new house across the street, now owned by Robert Corba. Other seedlings, also obtained as leftovers from Department of Natural Resources planting efforts on nearby state land, went in the ground on the Stites property.
The future Christmas tree thrived, growing to 25 inches diameter at the stump and 30 feet wide at the base of the branches.
A Texas-sized evergreen, as it turned out.
"It's beautiful, big and beautiful," said Pyse, who travels to Michigan every year to bring both oversized and home-sized Christmas trees back to sell. "These big blue spruces, the only place they grow good trees is in Michigan where it's cold — it takes a big tree to hold up under the Texas sun."
The commercial transaction underlying the deal helped sway Corba's decision, he admits. But after Pyse approached him, he took a week to think it over.
The balance tipped for the devout Christian when he considered how many people in Fort Worth would see the tree and share the joy of Christmas.
"Christmas will be illuminated, and I'm all for that," he said. "I have a belief that families will be brought together; to see families coming together on this holiday, that's a win-win."
A solemn air prevailed Friday afternoon as Corba and Stites plus other family members and neighbors watched Pyse direct the meticulous process. He and his three-man crew worked in a tight space in Corba's front yard, maneuvering around the house, an electrical pole, nearby trees and a ditch.
The two-hour proceedings included help from a construction crane, which stabilized the tree during cutting and lowered it to the ground.
A 12-ton wrecker then pulled the tree through an oversized baler. This arduous task progressed inch by inch until the massive spruce was trussed into a bundle 6 feet in diameter for shipping. The crane then lifted the subdued tree onto the waiting semitrailer.
As the afternoon's events wound down, Stites had a wistful thought.
"I'd like to be able to go down there to Ft. Worth and watch them put it up," he said. "That would be something."