The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 24, 2012

Sisters deck home with 35 Christmas trees

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Name the theme, and it's likely sisters Babs and Susie Tims have a Christmas tree decked out in it.

Cats? Check.

Pirates? Check.

Las Vegas? Most definitely.

What some friends tease them might be an obsession began with just two trees in their first home a few blocks away. Both of them are longtime teachers at Lakeside Elementary School who frequently received ornaments from students and fellow educators, so it made sense to add them to a tree.

They  are also avid travelers and have many friends who travel.

Over the years, they began accumulating souvenirs: an Alamo ornament from Texas, a cable car ornament from San Francisco. A fellow teacher brought them a Japanese ornament, and another brought them one from Russia.

It made sense that they install a tree to hold it all.

"We call this one our memory tree," Babs said of the result, a shoulder-high tree in their kitchen.

And then things snowballed.

The smallest? A Key West Christmas tree in their bathroom that is complete with seashells from their time on the beach in Florida and topped with a carved wooden macaw.

The largest? A Wizard of Oz Christmas tree in their den, complete with sunflowers, barbed wire, ruby slippers and topped with Glenda the good witch.

All told, there are 35 -- each with a theme, each with a story.

In the laundry room, perched between the washing machine and dryer, is a sock monkey Christmas tree.

"We thought it should relate to laundry. Socks -- get it?" laughed Babs.

Similarly, it made sense to outfit a Christmas tree in the kitchen with a bakery theme.

In the dining room are two waist-high trees, both pink, that showcase two more of their favorite themes: peace and love.

"I thought it was only appropriate to put my hippie Santa statue under the peace tree, which of course is decorated with peace signs," Babs said.

Meaningful memorabilia

She believes the most unique ornament on any of their trees is a railroad nail -- several nails, actually, each with a date significant to a family member stamped on the top. They hang from a small railroad-themed tree in a corner of the living room, decorated with model railroad tracks and topped with a striped railroad hat like their dad used to wear.

"Our dad worked at the roundhouse for Kansas City Southern here, and his dad and uncle worked for the railroad, too," Babs said. "These nails were used to put railroad ties in place, and we found them at the Joplin (Tri-State Mineral) Museum."

A rope is used in place of garland on their Western-themed Christmas tree in the foyer, which includes a pair of spurs as well as cactus and cowboy ornaments.

In the den are three trees that reflect three of their favorite schools: A Pittsburg State tree is decked out entirely in red and gold Gorilla-themed items. A University of Kansas tree is festooned with Jayhawks. And a white tree with purple ornaments, topped with a purple dragon is dedicated to their school district's mascot and colors.

In a guest bedroom there's a snowman tree. In Susie's bedroom a tropical beach tree outfitted with Hawaiian leis. And in Babs' bedroom there's an African tree with her favorite jungle prints -- cheetahs, giraffes, elephants and zebras.

Even the playhouse out back, built for their nieces and nephews, has a Christmas tree, or two, rather: A lime green slender one that bends dramatically to one side and is dedicated to Dr. Seuss ornaments, including One Fish, Two Fish and the Grinch, and one adorned entirely in Beanie Babies.

There are several in the garage as well, which itself has been painted and decorated as a Route 66-themed personal museum. Here, a Pepsi-Cola tree (Pittsburg is home to a distributor), a '50s and '60s nostalgic toys tree and a small diner tree on a Formica table fit right in.

To decorate all of them, it takes Babs an hour per tree.

"I have it down to a system," she said. "Each theme has a designated box for those ornaments."

Susie is the self-proclaimed enabler.

"I'm the one who gets on eBay and finds these things," she said from behind her laptop in their sunroom as she prepared to purchase a Mickey Mouse ornament. "Our mailman probably thinks we're crazy."

The two never married and have no children -- although they count more than 1,000 students they've had over the years as their "kids" -- but the trees have been seen by plenty of visitors.

"We love to entertain here during the holidays," Babs said.

That includes special evenings dedicated to the entire staff of Lakeside Elementary, members of their church, friends, extended family and a class that Babs taught at PSU this semester called, appropriately, "Creative Expression."

While they don't like to leave the trees up for very long after Christmas, one does remain all year: A tree that was within sight of their ailing mother, who lived with them and spent much of her time in the sunroom before her death at age 89 last year.

"It's our seasonal tree," explained Susie. "Right now it's wilderness themed, but Babs changes it out for each season and holiday."

So how many is too many?

"I think 50 is it," Susie said. "They say there's a lady in Tulsa who has more than 100. That's never going to happen."