Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Bartonville Tree brightens up holiday season

Certain stories are worth telling over and over again. And more often than not, they get better each time you hear them.

For Barbara Nunneley, her time-honored story is about the Bartonville Tree.

“It’s one of my favorite subjects,” Nunneley said. “In a word, it’s joy.”

Anyone who has lived in Bartonville and surrounding communities for any length of time and genuinely looks forward to the first sign of local holiday cheer has heard of and visited the Bartonville Tree (also affectionately dubbed the OMG Tree). The massive pecan tree, which is over 150 years old and located just off McMakin Road on Nunneley’s 10-acre ranch, is meticulously decked out every year with a whopping 60,000 to 65,000 LED lights — including the trunk and each individual limb.

It’s certainly a sight to behold. And to get that much Christmas cheer onto such a gigantic tree requires a cherry picker, a crane, a boom truck, and anywhere from eight to 12 skilled installers over two days. The lights were all white when it was first decorated in 2007. They were replaced by a dazzling green several years later.

And the best part is that residents and passersby can stop and gaze at it right now.

Nunneley officially lit the tree on Thanksgiving evening — just like she has every year for 15 years.

“It’s so much fun to see the joy that the tree continues to bring my family and everyone [in the community],” Nunneley said. “We get notes in the mailbox, under the front mat … even a bottle of wine from time to time. They want us to know they enjoy it.”

“People ask me every year, ‘You’re still doing the tree, right?’ And, of course, I always say yes.

But this story isn’t about another big tree with Christmas lights. The Bartonville Tree has developed quite the following and has become a rite of passage for many in and around Bartonville. Over the years, more than a handful of young lovers have proposed marriage under that tree. Nunneley even said she was approached in October by a local high school student who wanted to ask his sweetheart to be his girlfriend and attend the Homecoming dance with him.

“He was such a sweet and polite boy. He asked if it would be OK to do it by the fence, and I told him, ‘No. You need to climb through that fence, go over [to that tree], and ask her properly,’” Nunneley said with a laugh.

The tree also symbolizes love and a family holiday tradition that dates back to Nunneley’s childhood.

As her story goes, Christmas was the most important family holiday of the year, and for over 30 years, her parents would take the entire family to the Hotel St. Bernard, a premier ski resort at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. No one was allowed to miss this particular family getaway. In fact, if the kids had sporting events at school, they’d simply have to skip them — no exceptions.

The trip was all about reconnecting, having fun, and, of course, singing every hymn and Christmas song they knew.

“It was always so much fun, and it meant so much to my parents,” Nunneley said. “The St. Bernard always ran the twinkle lights up and down the mountain and ski slope. They did a tremendous job.”

Fast forward to 2007, and family gatherings during the holidays were still a big deal. But Nunneley’s father, Earl, was in the final stages of battling prostate cancer. He and Barbara’s mother, Mildred, planned to visit Barbara’s Bartonville home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in anticipation, she called The Christmas Light Co. of Dallas to decorate the house for another massive family celebration for what would likely be Earl’s last holiday season.

It was then that the owner of the Christmas lights company suggested that they also decorate the tree in the pasture.

“He admitted that they’d never done one that big before, but he said he could get it done and that it would look amazing,” Nunneley said. “After I picked myself up off the floor from reading his quote, we decided to do it. We knew it would likely be daddy’s last holiday with us, and we wanted it to be a special one for him.”

Sadly, Earl’s health took a turn for the worse before Thanksgiving, and he couldn’t make the trip. He passed away shortly after.

“My mom stayed with dad back home in Nocona, and we still had a big gathering with the kids and grandkids,” Nunneley said. “Although my dad didn’t see the tree while he was here on earth with us, I’ve always said that I’m pretty sure he still saw it.”

As for the future, no one has to worry about whether or not the Bartonville Tree will be lit every year. Nunneley says she can’t imagine a year without it — especially considering how much joy it brings to so many people.

“We need something uplifting and constant in our lives,” she said. “It’s reaffirming to know that the tree is always there.”

To see the tree: From the south: Head north on Shiloh Road from FM 1171 (Shiloh becomes McMakin). Look for the tree on the left, just past Barrington Hills Blvd. From the north: Head south on McMakin Road from FM 407 near Lantana. The tree is on the right, just before Barrington Hills Blvd.

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