- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Two steady knocks rapped on Nina Lee Parker’s red front door a few weeks before Christmas in 2010 and all she found when she answered was a sealed envelope taped to the door.

Quickly shutting the door, Parker headed to the couch to discover the contents of the mystery envelope.

She tore the seal and pulled out a Christmas card with a glittering Christmas tree on the front. Inside was a note expressing an appreciation for Parker’s annual Christmas display, describing it as “a blast from the past.” It was signed from Kenneth Beard and family.

Parker placed the card in a basket with some of her favorite Christmas cards from family and friends, hoping to one day meet the family that shared in her holiday tradition.

Nina Lee and Clyde Parker moved into their newly built home on Lincoln Avenue a few days before Christmas in 1953, the Evansville Courier & Press reported (https://bit.ly/1uNdbBg ). With a 5-month-old daughter and a house full of boxes to unpack, the Parkers decided to keep that year’s Christmas decorating to a minimum.

Little did they know that the decorations they’d display in the following years would become a tradition in not only their household but one for families across Evansville.

It took about eight years to get the decorating just right. Clyde and Nina Lee would put up a Christmas tree in the center of their picture window that faced the front yard toward Lincoln Avenue. Clyde would then illuminate the tree with flood lights at its base and string multicolored lights along the outside frame of the window. The result was a picturesque display for passers-by.

Karen Heineke, their eldest daughter, remembers her mother and father trading artificial trees for live ones, reconfiguring what style of tree would look best through the frosty glass window come the holidays. Finally, she said, her parents purchased a 6-foot tall artificial white flocked tree that added brilliance to every ornament and beamed through the window for all to see.

Heineke and her sister, Carol, grew older but their family’s Christmas tree display stayed the same each year - aside from adding new ornaments and the sneaky antics from the family dog, Buster. The white tree became the center of the household during the holidays and has stayed that way ever since.

“I knew it was perfect,” Nina Lee, now 95, said. She has used that same tree in her display for the last 55 years.

Carol Watson found her seat at the start of an Advent bible study at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in December 2008. The session began with a discussion about holiday traditions among church members.

An older woman began telling the group about the Christmas display she and her husband put together every year. She told stories of her white tree and the family ornaments that dressed it, but also said how she may not put the tree up this year. The woman was Nina Lee Parker and her husband, Clyde, had died about a month earlier.

Watson instantly volunteered to help Parker put up the tree and lights, along with almost every other church member at the Advent study that day.

“I told Nina about packing into my father’s car to go see ‘the white tree on Lincoln Avenue,’ ” she said. “That display was one of many we’d visit each Christmas growing up.”

Watson has helped Parker assemble her display every year since.

Just after Thanksgiving this year, Heineke was setting up the colored lights around her mother’s front window when she heard someone greet her. Kenneth Beard introduced himself and told her how much he loved the white tree and lights. Heineke couldn’t believe it - he was the author of the mystery letter from four years earlier.

“It was such a coincidence that he showed up when we were putting (the display) together,” she said.

Heineke took him inside and introduced him to her mother. Parker showed him the note he left and told him how much she appreciated it.

“I first saw this display about 20 years ago, and it just reminds me of my childhood and the simple displays back then,” Beard said. “We all collect things from our youth, and these memories are kind of what I collect.”

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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