CULLMAN, Ala. – For 44 years, the sight of a giant, spinning tree glowing in a window greeted motorists as they entered Cullman from U.S. Highway 278 East. The silver tree, decked in hundreds of custom ornaments and glittery tinsel and outfitted with a color wheel light, was visible from the home on the rocky bank across from where East Side Baptist Church now sits. The tree was a grand gesture of Christmas greetings on behalf of Ralph Basch and his family.
“It sat in front of a picture window right on 278,” said Ben Harrison, Ralph Basch’s grandson, noting that the last time the tree greeted the travelers was in December 2002.
“That’s the thing about it, none of the younger kids will know about it,” said Nathan Basch, who, with the help of his brother Jared, has brought the tree out of retirement for the family to enjoy.
“People would slow down, stop, and we would be in the big family room watching TV. Someone would come up and knock on the door and mother would say, ‘Ralph, who’s at the door again?’ And if he knew them, he’d say, ‘Well, come on in!” smiled Basch’s daughter, Nancy Harrison, who inherited the tree after her mother passed in 2002.
“I thought, somebody’s got to have that tree. I could have just let them draw straws, but when Nathan bought this house, he was the first boy to move back to Basch Road, so I said, ‘The tree is going back out there!'” she laughed. Thus, Nathan (Nancy Harrisons nephew) inherited Ralph Basch’s famous tree – but, after years in storage, it needed a bit of work.
“It was in Pop’s house and we got it in October of 2010. We got it out and redid all the wire and my brother Jared put two motors in it, but that’s basically it,” Nathan Basch explained. He said the most recent assembly only took about a day, but brought enough frustration on its own.
“We threw it together in one day, and I cussed it so many times!” he laughed.
The original tree took much longer to put together, according to Nancy Harrison. Ornaments were carefully laid out, tinsel strung between branches, and even more ornaments hung on the tinsel – “At least 1,600 ornaments,” recalled Ben Harrison.
“He was overly type-A,” Nancy Harrison recollected, laughing, “He would lay towels on the tables. He would arrange the ornaments in threes, and we better not have touched it!”
Today, there’s approximately nine or 10 ornaments on every branch, totaling “at least over 900 ornaments,” according to Nathan Basch’s calculations. While the majority of the ornaments are new, many of them were originally bought in the 1950s, with a few handmade by Ralph Basch himself – ornaments more precious than gold to the Basch family, since many had been lost in the April tornadoes.
“Some of them we were able to find, but some of them we don’t know where they are after the tornado,” explained Ben Harrison, pointing to a pink bell ornament made of felt and sequins, handmade by Ralph Basch.
Nancy Harrison agreed that while the younger generation may not even have a clue of how relevant or precious the silver tree is, the older generations will be happy to reminisce about those times riding into town for holiday shopping, and will be happy to know the tree still lives, even if it’s not open to the public.
“People will remember this tree, and remember my dad, how meticulous he was, how much he loved Christmas,” she smiled.