It was Christmas holiday 1963 and Bob Wessler was a long way from home. With his wife, Ann, and young sons Tony and Jim, Wessler was making the best of his U.S. Air Force duty in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Christmas is, after all, about family and the traditions that carry through life.
Part of that tradition was finding a live Christmas tree. Like most Americans circa 1960s, the ritual of selecting, transporting, and decorating the family Christmas tree was an essential – if not somewhat magical – part of the overall yuletide experience. But in Ecuador, the lack of live trees meant adopting the local custom of attaching painted sticks to a base – or doing without.
“My grandmother did not want sticks,” wrote Ann’s granddaughter, Rebecca Wessler, in a 1993 high school paper about the Wessler family Christmas in Ecuador. “But with no way to get a live one, she decided to send away for an artificial one instead.” Ann Wessler ordered her first artificial tree from a John Plain catalogue – the tree was shipped to the Wessler home in Ecuador. And now, 49 years later, that tree continues an important role within the Wessler family.
Tony and Beth Wessler adopted the artificial tree a few years ago after his mom and dad decided to buy a modern version – the type that comes complete with lights, just plug-and-go. The tree was passed to son Tony, and it continues to shine with original lighting. Today, some of the lights on the tree once-adorned a Wessler Christmas tree in the 1930s, when Bob Wessler was a child.
This year Tony and Beth decided to make the tree public, placing it inside their Trusted Property Management office at 9 Maple Street in Sullivan. “We’ve been putting it up in our house since 2008, but decided to put it in the office this year,” says Tony, who is also a city alderman. Interestingly, he says, the non-traditional tree was nearly replaced when the family moved back to the U.S.
“I know that my parents thought of getting a live tree after returning to the U.S.,” Tony says. “But they didn’t.” In fact, it seems that a very real fondness began to grow after the family’s first encounter of the fake-tree kind. In her 1993 high school paper, Rebecca Wessler noted several fond memories recalled by her grandmother.
Tony Wessler’s brother, Jim, had purchased a parakeet for a girlfriend. However, the little bird took a liking to the new tree. During the Christmas of 1963, the Wessler’s very fake tree had a very real bird as a living ornament! But most importantly, real tree or not, Ecuador or America, the spirit of Christmas remained the same in the Wessler household. Rebecca Wessler recalls more from her grandmother’s Christmas, 49 years ago this year.
After spending Christmas day eating and opening presents on a warm Ecuadoran beach, the Wessler family arrived home. “We spent all day at the beach and came home sandy and tired,” Ann Wessler recalled in 1993. “We turned on the lights on the plastic Christmas tree and grandfather (Bob Wessler) read the Christmas story from the family bible. Even the parakeet seemed to catch the spirit, for even he stayed quiet and listened to the centuries-old story.”
The tree, like the fond memories it evokes, lives on this holiday season.
(Beth and Tony Wessler invite you to see their tree during regular business hours at Trusted Property Management, 9 Maple Street, Sullivan, Mo.)