This year, holiday tree gains new meaning

Evergreen honors couple killed in 1989 by drunken drivers

Annapolis

November 22, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

When Jane Hay's blue spruce begins its reign at the City Dock next week as the state capital's official Christmas tree, she hopes its shiny ornaments and bright lights won't obscure one of its messages.

Hays donated the 25-foot tree to the city in memory of her daughter and son-in-law who were killed in 1989 when their car was struck by drunken drivers.

"I hope it makes people stop and think" before they drink and drive, said Hays, who lives in Rolling Knolls just outside Annapolis. A plaque in memory of the couple is planned for the tree, she said.

The tree's other message this year will be obvious in its red, white and blue decorations as a tribute to the American spirit.

"This year more than ever people are really valuing Christmas for what it's all about, its true meaning," said Donna Sage, marketing coordinator for Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. "It's important for people to gather around a tree and be with family and friends."

The family-owned garden center has decorated the city's Christmas tree for the past four years at no cost. She expects the tree's appearance will please residents who have complained about the wild design themes of past years that have adorned the evergreen, which stands in the center of historic downtown.

In 1998, it was a nautical theme that irked them, complete with a mannequin in a rain slicker, which some said looked like a dead body. A year later, the "Yuletide Harvest" tree, with fruit baskets, tobacco leaves and red rakes sticking out among the branches, provoked sour faces and letters to the editor.

"[This theme] is just fabulous," said Hayes, who donated the tree under her name and that of her late husband, Roland Hays. She said she sees a connection between the theme and her deceased son-in-law, David Talbott: he served in the Army.

Two years before the couple's death, Hays recalled that her daughter, Paula Talbott, insisted that she do something with the tree, which stood a few feet from the side porch of Hays' home.

"Mom, you gotta get lights and put them on that tree," Hayes recalled her daughter saying when she first saw the tree. "That's got to be decorated."

"Christmas for her was like Christmas for a 4-year-old," Hayes said of her 40-year-old daughter. "She never really grew up. I thought this would be a nice tribute to her and her husband."

Hays said the two were born and raised in Annapolis and in 1967 graduated from Annapolis High, where they were sweethearts. David joined the Army shortly after and was sent to Germany. Paula had never flown before, but followed him there. They were married in 1969.

Hays said her daughter and son-in-law were killed March 4, 1989, in front of the Odenton fire hall on Route 175 when their car was struck from behind by a drunken driver. The car spun around, she said, only to be hit again by the driver of another car -- who was also drunk.

They are survived by a daughter, Lynn, who is now 26 years old and married.

On Monday, workers will cut the tree down and place it downtown. Sage said decorators will spend three days getting it ready for its close-up when city officials and the Annapolis Jaycees light it Dec. 2. The Jaycees will collect nonperishable food items and unwrapped toys for its Food Baskets project.

"Paula and her husband always went down for the lighting of the Annapolis tree," Hays said. "I'm just happy to know that this is put up in memory of them."

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