Bud Kennedy

This ‘Homeless Christmas Tree’ taught a lesson when it died. But there’s new life

A 2008 view of the “Homeless Christmas Tree.”
A 2008 view of the “Homeless Christmas Tree.” Star-Telegram archives

The “Homeless Christmas Tree” lives again.

But leave it alone, or else the sapling that has sprouted from the original mimosa on a lonely east Fort Worth hillside will die too.

In part, the first forlorn, landmark tree was just loved to death.

For almost 30 years beginning in 1986, the crooked little tree along Interstate 30 was decorated at Christmas, first by workers at a nearby insurance office and then by volunteers as a symbol for the homeless and forgotten at the holidays.

Sometimes, the ribbons, wrapping and nailed-up ornaments almost covered the tree.

In 2014, it died.

City forestry workers saved seeds, which have sprouted four saplings. Volunteers transplanted a similarly wobbly tree Oct. 29, 2017, at the original site on state highway land, said Christian Meyer of Arlington.

His mother, the late Presbyterian Night Shelter resident and worker Carla Christian, was among several people who decorated the tree. Her story is told in a 2008 children’s book, “The Homeless Christmas Tree.”

“She wanted people to see the tree and remember the homeless, the people in shelters,” said Meyer, 49, a musician.

“I hope this is something I can pass off to my kids. We want to grow more seedlings and keep it going.”

City forestry workers have left upkeep at the site to volunteers and state highway workers.

It’s illegal to damage the tree. That’s damaging state property.

“People should be aware that if you wrap something around a tree trunk, it can kill the tree,” city forester Melinda Adams said.

“Lots of people wrap their trees with lights. But people were wrapping this tree all year long. There were so many people abusing this tree.”

The author of the book, Leslie M. Gordon of Fort Worth, helped arrange to replant the saplings. Another went to a donor to the Presbyterian Night Shelter, she said.

“Now don’t go up there and mess with it,” she said, “because we want it to live.”

The original tree caught attention because it sat alone on a hill, often silhouetted against the setting sun for motorists driving west.

It was Fort Worth’s version of the scrawny tree in the 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Despite the abuse, it outlived a typical mimosa.

“It shouldn’t have ever survived so long, but it did,” Gordon said.

“So many people in Fort Worth feel like they have a personal connection to this tree.”

Now give it room to grow.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.