- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

ROCKPORT, Mass. (AP) - Twenty-nine years ago, Molly Johnson was given a tiny sapling on Arbor Day, which the Rockport kindergartner planted in her backyard.

Now that pine, which she donated to the town, is destined to become the decked-out Christmas tree in Dock Square. Rockport has a month-long celebration of events during its “Christmas in Rockport” season, which culminates Dec. 31 during the town’s 20th New Year’s Rockport Eve celebration.

A crew from the Department of Public Works on Wednesday successfully cut down the tree with its billowing branches and full conical shape, as the Johnson family looked on, all gathered together for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The 47-foot tree, located in the backyard of her parent’s Parker Street home, had to be removed by way of Broadway Terrace because of the byzantine layout of the properties, which date back hundreds of years, in that part of town.

When the tree-laden truck maneuvered out of its close quarters, it had a police escort due to the delicate nature of the transport with its extra-wide load. An impromptu Christmas tree parade began as the family and a few onlookers walked down Broadway to Dock Square to watch the move.

Like a Wild West wagoner, public works employee Chuck Osmond rode atop the truck as it drove down Broadway to the tree’s resting place, where the crew had to cut off around 8 feet so it could fit into the tree stand.

Each of the Johnsons’ four children received a sapling 29 years ago, but the fate of the other pines proved perilous under the watch of siblings Meghan, Cara, and Brian in grammar school. They were all watching the complicated process of removing Molly’s survivor at the family homestead Wednesday morning.

As a child, Molly made sure to water that plant often during the growing season, and nurture it through winters, when she would shake snow off the small branches, an early sign she had a green thumb.

“If I knew the tree was going to last so long, we would have planted it 10 feet closer to the house,” said Bruce Johnson, her father. In his retirement, he started Purple Heart Landscaping, a name suggested by Molly because he was shot in Vietnam while serving as a soldier during the war. In recent years, Molly has taken over the business.

After the tree-cutting was done, Molly said she’s happy to have been able to give the tree to the town.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s a good thing, a little bittersweet but there is a happy ending. It will make Christmas a little more special,” she said.

Beth Walima was Molly’s kindergarten teacher at Pigeon Cove School, which 30 years ago was a town school for kindergartners and first-graders. Walima remembered well that Arbor Day tradition when the Arbor Day Foundation sends along saplings to be given to the schoolchildren.

“They were these little sprigs of a pine tree with a small root system in a plastic bag,” she recalled.

Sometimes the pupils went to the nearby Halibut Point State Park for the program, and other times the event took place at the grammar school.

“It’s interesting that this one survived and did so well,” Walima said. “It’s a wonderful experience to donate a tree to the town. We had a similar experience. My dad brought home a little pine tree from work when I was a child, and the tree became huge. After he passed away, we donated it to the town. It was a really special Christmas. It’s a nice feeling to know it’s your tree when you stand in Dock Square and they light it up.”

As the holiday season begins, Molly and her family said they will be sure to be there this year for the tree lighting event, which takes place Saturday, Dec. 3, at 4 p.m.

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Information from: Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, https://www.gloucestertimes.com

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