Durham Christmas tree is 'King of the Road'
Neighborhood tree in center of road becomes community tradition.
It is raining and cold as the crowd begins to gather outside Steve Balsigers house.
Adults keep warm with bellies full of hot buttered rum while children chase each other around the small cul-de-sac in Durham, careful to avoid a spider-web of extension cords that emanate from the middle of the road.
Its the latest in a long tradition in Balsingers neighborhood: The lighting of the most unique Christmas tree in Washington County.
For nearly two decades, the residents of the small cul-de-sac of Southwest Thistlebrook Court have chipped in, erecting a large fir tree in the center of their street each December and decorating it with lights and ornaments.
It has become a Christmas tradition for the neighborhood and a staple for a community deeply rooted in its love and appreciation of trees.
Neighbors chip in on electricity bill
In Durham, trees are everywhere.
The small city tucked behind Bridgeport Village is sprinkled haphazardly with skyscraper-sized evergreens, and its not uncommon for trees to expand from yards into a driveway.
But, without a doubt, the most recognizable tree in town this time of year is the large Christmas tree seemingly growing from the middle of the road.
The tree comes on in the morning so people can see it on their way to work, said John Durst, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades and was the mastermind behind the annual holiday tradition.
The crowd outside Balsigers house is comprised of about 50 friends, family and neighbors.
It has been quite a year for the neighborhood, Balsiger said, standing on a stump and speaking over soft Christmas music coming from a nearby garage. They have seen births, deaths, graduations, retirements and elections. There is a baby on the way.
Many on the block have stayed for decades and raised their children here.
My kids never knew this wasnt normal, said Susan Giles, who raised her two boys on Thistlebrook Court. They were maybe into middle school when they realized other places didnt do this.
This years tree is a bit pear-shaped with thin branches weighed down by some of the larger ornaments.
When we were putting this tree up, I said to one of the neighbors that our tree has issues, Balsiger said. She looked at me and said, Steve, dont we all?
Extension cords run to each house on Thistlebrook Court, as everyone chips in. Electric bills in the neighborhood rise by about $100 a month while the tree is lit, neighbors said.
The neighbors take plenty of pride in this tree. They say others around the small city have also taken a shine to the unusual event.
Passing motorists are common, as people get a look at the yearly tree.
As Durst and Balsiger were preparing the tree for Sundays celebration, a Tualatin police officer approached them and said he enjoys the Thistlebrook Court tree every year.
Community members have even added their own decorations to it over the years.
One day we walked out here and saw an ornament tied with a red ribbon hanging from one of the braches, Durst said. We had no idea who put it up, but years later, we learned it was a father and son who walked by and put it on the tree.
Durst said he makes sure to hang the ornament every year.
An ideal home
The holiday celebration brings all the neighbors together, including Christians and Jews, Durst said. Each year they wish everyone a Merry Chirstmas and Happy Hannukah.
Were quite a diverse neighborhood, Durst said.
A few doors down, Susan Giles agreed.
Thats just the way it is here, Giles said. It has been wonderful. You couldnt ask for a better place to live.
In an age when people dont know their neighbors, the residents of Thistlebrook Court make a point of getting together.
We do this for everything, she said. Baby showers, bar mitzvahs, family reunions weve celebrated every iteration of 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th and 80th birthdays.
When Giles turned 40, the neighborhood built a communal fire pit in the middle of the cul-de-sac, which still stands today.
Giles said she cant imagine living anywhere else.
Its important for us to stay here. Not just for my kids, but for me. These people are my family, she said. You know here that if something goes wrong, you have people that have your back.
This year saw the death of longtime resident Don Stephens, who lived in the cul-de-sac since the 1970s. Stephens served as Durhams mayor from 1982 to 1990.
Residents dedicated this years tree to Stephens, decorating it with 1,000 lights, the most anyone can remember putting on the tree.
I caught some flack for putting too many lights on this tree, Balsiger told the crowd Sunday night. But we are dedicating this tree to Don, and I know that with this many lights, wherever he is, hell be able to see it.
Thistlebrook Court is located off Southwest Rivendell Road near Bridgeport Village.