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Debra Newman watches Monday as city workers put the city’s Christmas tree in place on North Court Street. The tree came from her yard.

Debra Newman watches Monday as city workers put the city’s Christmas tree in place on North Court Street. The tree came from her yard. [BERNIE DELINSKI/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — It started decades ago as a tiny sapling in the front yard of Mel and Debra Newman's home.

That was sometime in the 1980s, Debra Newman said. With the young cedar tree sprouting close to the street of their Hickory Hills Road residence, Debra Newman recalls saying something to her husband about possibly cutting it down.

"He said, 'You can't do that. It chose to be here, so leave it alone,'" she said.

Mel Newman, who died 25 years ago, loved trees and had planted a walnut, a pear, two sugar maples, a poplar and a pecan tree in their yard, strategically placing them where they would provide shade for the house.

As for the cedar tree, when it was still young but finally reached the strength to hold Christmas lights, Debra Newman placed some on them. She laughs when remembering a friend called it the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

A couple of years ago, Newman was talking with a neighbor about the tree, which has grown into a massive cedar, saying she knew it needed to be removed because it was posing a hazard near the street.

During that conversation, an idea came up: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were the city's Christmas tree?" Newman recalls.

That idea idled for a while. After all, the city used to have a live Christmas tree on North Court Street but hadn't done so in decades. That changed last year when Linda Van Sant started a movement to reinstate the tradition.

The city liked Van Sant's idea, and last year had a tree in the median of North Court Street, just south of the University of North Alabama.

When Newman heard about that, the idea struck her that since the tree in her yard was going to have to be removed, the city could use it as the city Christmas tree in 2019.

That became a reality Monday as city workers removed the tree from the Newman yard, placed it on a truck, hauled it to North Court Street, and set it up.

"It's going to be beautiful here," Newman said while watching workers put the tree in place.

She kept some twigs from the tree with plans to include them into some type of permanent keepsake, possible through a pottery project.

Newman is pleased that the city is using the tree this season. She approached the city's Beautification Board about the idea shortly after last Christmas season, since the tradition of having a downtown tree had been renewed. The board has been assisting and will add lights and decorations.

The official lighting will be Dec. 6, following a ceremony at Wilson Park during the First Fridays event.

"This really seems fitting, knowing this is a Tree City USA," Newman said of Florence's Arbor Day Foundation designation.

Neighbors and some board members stood with Newman in her yard while watching the tree's removal.

"This is a real gift to the city," board member Brenda Tease told her.

"The White House has their tree, and now Florence has its tree," Hubbert added.

Newman believes it's also fitting that on the 25th anniversary of the year her husband died, one of the trees from their yard is on display.

"He would be very proud," she said. "It had an honorable ending as a Christmas tree. Maybe other families could consider doing this and make it a Florence tradition."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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