Here’s the assignment – seemingly impossible: Find a giant Christmas tree; get it given to the town of West Warwick because they don’t have the money to buy it and then cut it down and deliver it without pulling down wires or hopelessly snarling traffic on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.
Jared Nunes has been doing just that for the past five or six years (he’s lost count). The state representative for District 25 did it again this year, thanks to the efforts of Barbara Barnes Petrarca 45 or 50 years ago (she’s lost count, too).
Barbara says she doesn’t recall how old she was when she bought a dozen or so blue spruce seedlings and planted them on her East Avenue property. Not all of the trees made it, but one was especially hardy, and when it showed signs that it would take over the driveway, she offered it to her neighbors across the street. That’s where it was transplanted and grew and grew, until Nunes, in his quest for the perfect town Christmas tree, spotted it in September. He thought the property owners might be interested, as a “for rent” sign was posted on the recently renovated house. He didn’t know that he was tapping the very roots of the Natick neighborhood.
“I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but hear me out before you hang up,” Nunes recalls pleading.
On the line was Paul LaFrance. Paul and his father-in-law, Henry Tito Cruciani, had just spent the better part of a year renovating the house that was left in shambles by its former tenants and then vacant after the bank foreclosed. It was a mess.
“It’s a brand new house, built in the 1830s,” quipped Paul.
The interior of the house was gutted to the studs. Paul and Henry did shifts working on the property. Someone was working on it nearly every day for the better part of a year.
But there was more to the project than just a house. It is the house next to the house where Henry grew up. He last lived in the house in 1959, moving out after graduating from URI.
Henry and his wife, Martha, were interested when they learned of the foreclosure and kept a watchful eye for when it would come to auction. They found that a frustrating exercise, as they had difficulty contacting anyone who could answer their questions. Finally, there was action, but the Crucianis were outbid.
Sometime later, while on a trip to Italy, they got a call from their daughter, Cynthia, Paul LaFrance’s wife. The winning bidder backed out of the deal; if they could get $1,000 to the bank, they could put a lock on the house. As soon as they returned to the States, Cynthia was there with a check to rush to the bank.
While Paul may be a newcomer to the neighborhood, he knew better than making a decision about the tree all by himself.
“In Natick, you don’t do anything without permission from the neighbors,” he said.
They held a powwow that included Barbara. Although across East Avenue from her property, the Petrarcas had a clear view of the symmetrically shaped spruce Barbara planted all those years ago. They have even seen a mockingbird stake it out as part of his territory. The bird is frequently perched on its upper branches and there’s no mistaking its early morning chatter, which makes Barbara a little sad to see the tree go. She’s sure the bird will do just fine. But she’ll miss the waving branches of the spruce whenever there is a wind.
Nunes had plenty of help with his mission, with everything from the crane that held the tree from toppling after being cut to moving it, which was handled by Steve Faye. Everything was donated. It’s always been that way, although he’s occasionally provided some in-kind services such as landscaping to seal a deal.
The only contingency Martha could think of was that Barbara be outfitted with a harness so that the crane could carry her to the top of the tree to crown it with a star.
“Oh no,” said Barbara.
Then someone said, “What about a bucket truck?”
Barbara was ready for that in a heartbeat. The tree was decorated over the weekend. The lighting was scheduled for last night.