- Kentucky city called socialist for buying gas station, undercutting competitor fuel prices
- Israel hits five mosques, sports complex in overnight Gaza strikes
- Hillary Clinton dogged for refusing reporters’ questions on book tour
- EPA tweet baffles: ‘I’m now a C-List celebrity in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ iPhone game
- Australian P.M. Abbott: MH17 evidence tampered with on ‘industrial scale’
- Rep. Luis Gutierrez tells Hispanics to vote and ‘punish those’ who oppose amnesty
- Country singer Tim McGraw not sorry for slapping female fan: ‘Things happen’
- Iraq vet cited for owning 14 therapeutic pet ducks
- White House takes credit for drop in unaccompanied children at border
- International crises be damned, Obama’s fundraising trip must go on
Rescued Christmas tree lifts wrecked town’s spirit
Question of the Day
UNION BEACH, N.J. — In the days after Superstorm Sandy wrecked this gritty blue-collar enclave on the New Jersey shore, creating iconic scenes of devastation and loss, the artificial Christmas tree was just an inconspicuous part of tons of rubble, the detritus of people’s lives in a town ripped apart.
A local youth soccer coach drove past it for three days straight, on his way to volunteer by helping neighbors rip out the carpets, floors and walls of their flooded homes. He plucked it from its waterlogged storage bag, set it up in a vacant field — and watched in amazement as grieving residents made the tree their own.
A month later, Union Beach has rallied around the tree, a rare bit of encouragement in a holiday season depressing like no other.
“It’s become the sign of our hope, that life goes on and you move forward. It’s just amazing,” said Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, whose destroyed restaurant, Jakeabob’s Bay, was flashed across TV screens during Wednesday night’s telecast of the Sandy benefit concert in New York.
This town of about 6,200 just across Raritan Bay from New York’s Staten Island suffered major damage from the storm surge and resulting flooding; a house on the bay front that was cut in half by waves has become one of the defining images of the storm.
County parks employee James Butler, the man who rescued the tree, said much of its appeal is that the community as a whole has taken ownership. He came to feel the town’s despair — and the reason to be hopeful — while helping an elderly widow haul out the waterlogged contents of her flooded home, including all her furniture and mementos of her husband.
“I took that same deep breath in that people whose homes are ruined take, when you realize that all the stuff that made that house a home is gone,” he said. “She saw me do that, and she came over and gave me a hug. That was the spark I needed, the thought that things were going to be OK.”
That night, in early November, he plucked the tree out of the debris in the curb.
“I took it out of the bag,” he recalled. “It was like the rest of the town: It smelled bad, and it was sopping wet.”
He tried to set it upright, but it had no stand. He went to a store and bought a tree stand for a real tree, but the artificial tree didn’t quite fit right. To this day, it lists a little. Next to it, he put up a handmade sign that read: “Dear Sandy: You can’t wash away hope. You only watered it so more hope can grow. Signed, Union Beach.”
Then he got out of the way as the town started adopting this forlorn storm survivor, a Charlie Brown tree if ever there was one.
A few ornaments appeared within a day or two. Others followed. Then still more. A neighbor ran a string of extension cords from his house to the tree so it could light up at night.
The ornaments began getting personal, with hand-scrawled notes of support. One family wrote, “We believe! We have hope! We will recover!” on a flaming-red glass ornament. Another scrawled “We love Union Beach” on another.
TWT Video Picks
U.S. appetite for drugs begets violence migrants are fleeing
- IRS seeks help destroying another 3,200 computer hard drives
- Jewish woman booted from JetBlue flight over fight with Palestinian
- YOUNG: A sinking presidency, deeper after November?
- PRUDEN: A deadly enemy within exacerbating immigration crisis
- Edward Snowden to work with Russia on anti-spy technology
- MERRY: Handicaps in Hillary's way
- U.S. scrambles as violence escalates in Israel-Hamas conflict
- Humanists seek support from Congress on military chaplains
- Rep. Jared Polis' anti-fracking crusade riles Colorado
- Big milestone for Britain's little prince
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq