A lone pine tree along northbound I-75 in Arenac County is decorated for the Holiday season. Again. Warning: the back story will break your heart.

This story seems worthy of a Hallmark movie.

On a desolate stretch of I-75 up north, a small pine tree appeared in the middle of nowhere. It had no forest to protect it. It was just out along the roadway, by itself, barely hanging on.

The Detroit Free Press reports that it was one woman, Deanna Bennett, who first decided the tree needed some love. So she hung a single Christmas ornament from it.

“She inspired me because she took a beating being that close to the road, and she stood there with grace and beauty, and it inspired me to try to live like that despite what got thrown at me.”

Soon after, another ornament appeared on the tree. Then another, and another. And by Christmas that first year, the entire tree was decked out for the Holiday!

It was a Christmas miracle!

But the tree was there for a reason. It was planted 20 years ago by a roadside worker as a memorial for Jason Porter, a young man who was killed by a wrong way drunk driver in 1999, right there, at mile marker 199.

The road worker planted the tree after he accidentally threw away a cross left there by Jason's mom, Kathy, and wanted to replace it with something permanent.

“For the first couple years it didn’t look like it was going to make it because of the traffic and the heat coming off the road,” Kathy told the Free Press. “So we were a little distraught that we were going to have to do something else.

Free Press writer John Carlisle picks up the story from there:

But nobody knew any of this. All they saw was a Christmas tree on an otherwise dull stretch of mid-state highway. And they were captivated by it.

A few people sensed the tragic origins of the tree, and added their own memorials to lost loved ones. Someone hung a handmade plastic ornament featuring sad cartoon teddy bears with the words, “In memory of my precious grandbabies” with the names Sam and Maggie and their death dates a year ago. No mention of the cause. Someone else pasted paper letters spelling out the names of children on a now-soggy piece of thin wood. No explanation there, either.

Others brought blank ornaments and wrote their names and hometowns in marker, to note that they’d passed through and had taken part in this community ritual. “The Brown Family,” said one. “Kit and Kevin Carter, XOXO” said another. “Hank and Dawn” was written on a translucent blue bulb. The Fife family drew stick figures of people and a smiling dog.

And others hung things just to be part of the fun. Someone strung a thin sheet of metal from a strand of now-rusty wire. Another hung a birdhouse with a cartoon snowman painted on it. Someone wrapped a garland around the flagpole. And somebody hung a whole bunch of delicate, retro, glass ornaments, enhancing the nostalgic look of the tree.

Now it’s Christmastime. The grasses around the pine have gone brown and flat, and except for some evergreens most of the clustered trees across the highway have lost their leaves and their luster. But this ugly duckling of a tree has become the most beautiful one around. Its branches dip under the weight of golden bulbs and silver orbs that sparkle in the sunshine. And the crowd of trees across the way can only look on in envy.

The woman who hung that first ornament is delighted at what her gesture has sparked. “I think it’s a hard world,” Bennett said. “There’s not a lot of random acts of kindness. There’s so much dark in the news, and in life, and there’s this tree who just makes you smile as you drive by her. What a blessing she’s turned out to be.”


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