Tree carries spirit of season

Dina Baker's annual tradition serves as a gift to her late husband, Carroll.

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Dina Baker cranes to see ornaments near the top of the Christmas tree in her living room. Baker said she has been putting up a Christmas tree every year fo more than 30 years, the past 25 to honor her late husband, Carroll Baker.

WALLA WALLA -- As far as Christmas trees go, Dina Baker's tree is an impressive one, with its star-topped tip reaching to 14 feet, and fully dressed and lit boughs decked with precious ornaments she has collected over the years.

Her reason for putting up a tree that doubles what most people get is somewhat lacking in comparison to the tree itself.

"It fits the space there, and I love beautiful things," she said as a matter of factly. Then she later explained that the first time she ordered the 14-foot tree was in 1975.

She and her husband had recently bought and moved into the house, and along with it the couple acquired 1970s-style 15-foot cathedral ceilings, which would accommodate a 14-foot tree and star on top.

So while her husband, Carroll, was busy working at the bank, Dina Baker was busy showing the delivery guys where she wanted her tree. "I just did it on my own. My husband, he was working," she said, noting that she was then and still is rather independent.

A little later during her reflections, Baker got up from the dining room table and walked over to her 14-foot tree to search for ornaments that might spark memories of Christmas past. But they were hung too far back for the 77-year-old to remember and hold again. And there is something else that seems to have been forgotten -- the presents. At the base of Baker's tree is a red blanket covered with fallen needles and nothing more. Off to one side leaning against the wall is a small bag containing the only gifts; they patiently wait for Baker's hands to conceal them with paper and bow.

"I haven't wrapped them yet. It's kind of bare," she admitted. It did look bare, but only because this Christmas tree wasn't meant for the present but for the past.

Take hold Dina Baker's hand on a brisk Sunday afternoon and travel back to Christmas past of 66 years ago and you will begin to understand that the spirit of Baker's Christmas tree is alive and strong.

She was then a girl of 11 whose father had recently died, and whose mother was now a widow.

"Mom didn't want a tree because of Dad ... She was heartbroken," Baker said. But she and her brother would not let go of Christmas. And in one of those instances where children know best, Baker and her brother found themselves bringing home a tree for Christmas, a tradition that would follow year after year.

"We would always go up six blocks or more and drag a tree home," she said. The years passed by, and one day instead of bringing a tree home to her mother, Baker brought her mother home to spend Christmas with her and her husband.

They were good times, but they would not last.

"It's not as hard anymore, but you are bring it all back. It's a happy memory thinking about him. It is a wonderful memory."

For 10 years Dina Baker ordered, dressed and enjoyed her 14-foot Christmas tree with her family, and most of all, she enjoyed the way her husband would tease her about the tree.

"He would always say that I would keep it up to the Fourth of July if I could," Baker said, laughing a little and agreeing a lot. But not every Christmas is filled with joy. And the Christmas of 1984 was one of the hardest for Baker.

Earlier that year, on Labor Day weekend, Baker's husband died unexpectedly and suddenly. Three months later Baker would again struggle to bring home a Christmas tree, but this time she was the widow.

"It's hard and difficult to think about," Baker said, and she teared up for a brief moment, then composed herself.

A little later in the conversation, her independence would show itself, as she said, "I don't shed tears now. You got to go on with life," but then corrected herself, "I mean I may (shed tears); I just did with you."

The first Christmas after her husband's death was the hardest, Baker said, not wanting to admit how much she cried. But she revealed through bits and pieces just how hard it was, and she said, "I was a wreck."

"After he died everything I did brought back memories," she added, admitting that hanging the ornaments that Christmas was an especially hard time.

Still, for the last 25 years she has ordered and decorated a 14-foot tree in honor of her husband, with a little help from the professional tree dressers at Jacky's Flowers.

And having no children, it is understandable that gifts would be scarce under this tree. But then again, the entire tree is a gift in a way.

"I was going to carry on and live to honor his memory as much as I could," she said.

So if you happen to drive by Baker's home and see through the windows what looks to be an impressive 14-foot Christmas trees, you should know that what you are truly looking at is a Sequoia of a gift to a husband long gone.

"I don't know if it is a really important story, but this tree is important to me."

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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