Forty Years of Maine Christmas tree sales on East St.
Ralph Metivier helps Scott Davidson load a tree onto the roof of his car.
(Photo by Beth Clarke)
One of my earliest and sweetest memories of Carlisle began a few weeks after we moved here, in the late 1980s. It was a beautiful early December Sunday morning, we had been to church, and on the way home we seized on the idea of getting what would be our first Christmas tree in our new house. We decided to follow the signs for “Christmas Trees” starting in the Center. We didn’t go far down East Street when we saw the signs build to a crescendo at a house with hundreds of trees displayed and stacked in its yard.
We were the only customers there when we arrived and we found the proprietor friendly and chatty. He introduced himself as Herb Bates and asked us where we lived. He told us about his Christmas tree farm in Maine, how he had grown up in Carlisle, retired
o Maine, and how he and his wife Jean returned here every year at Thanksgiving to stay with their daughter’s family and operate his business through the holidays.
We were charmed by Herb and knew how fortunate we were to have just moved to a little town where we could get a beautiful fresh Maine Christmas tree with such a provenance less than a mile from home. We selected a tree and when it came time to pay for it, we apologized that we hadn’t anticipated going straight from church to get a Christmas tree, so we would need to go home quickly and grab a wallet. However, our new friend wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted we put our tree on the car and bring him our money sometime later, no hurry. He was so generous and insistent, we had no choice but to comply or risk insulting his hospitality. Five minutes later our tree was standing against our house and we were back paying for our tree, and shaking hands with someone we knew would be our friend for life. We looked forward to seeing him every Christmas season and bought trees from him and his family every year since (until our admittedly ambivalent purchase of a “fake tree”).
The Bates Christmas Tree Farm
We later learned that Herb’s search for a property in Maine had had two key criteria: a mountain view and moving water running through it. His
search ended around 1967 when he and his wife, Jean, found the property in the town of Embden, Maine, which is surrounded by two picturesque rivers, the Kennebec and the Carrabassett. When they bought their property they soon built a log cabin there, and started growing Christmas trees a couple of years later.
In the late 1970s Herb began selling Christmas trees at the East Street home of his daughter, Connie Metivier, and her husband Ralph. It was a family affair with Jean and Connie making the bows for the wreaths Herb made, and Ralph helping out and making the tree stands. As time went on, the Metivier children, Jessica and Jason, became involved too. And when Herb passed away in 2004, Jason purchased the farm, keeping it in the family and continuing the legacy of the Christmas tree business in Carlisle.
The Bates Family in Carlisle
|The Lee-Kovach family from Prospect Street gets their Christmas tree for the second year since they moved here from California. Ralph Metivier helps Marty Kovach carry it. Metivier is flanked by Kovach’s wife Amy Lee and son August Lee-Kovach. (Photo by Linda Myers-Tierney)
Over time, we came to know that Herb Bates was loved and respected for the person he was and for the many hats he had worn in our small town. His parents had begun the Bates Farm dairy business on Bedford Road in 1921 (see Carlisle Mosquito article of March 17, 2017, “Kimball Farm’s Carlisle Ice Cream Stand: a 200 year-old Dairy Farm Site”), so he grew up there, tending milking cows and along with his brother and two sisters, driving delivery trucks and bringing Bates Farm milk to families in Carlisle and surrounding towns and to generations of children at the Carlisle School every morning. He and his wife Jean raised their family of four children in the home they built on Stearns Street.
Herb served the town in many ways over the years, including as a selectman, firefighter, one of its first policemen, and its first police chief. Long-time Carlisle residents can even remember him using his family’s station wagon to serve as the town ambulance to transport ill and injured people to the hospital.
As you can imagine, Carlisle was a different place then. Even when we first moved here in the 1980s, my husband’s older generation relatives who had grown up in Somerville and Medford recalled Carlisle as a “one-horse town.” They reflected that it was probably a nice place to live “as long as you have a car.” When I later began to read about the history of Carlisle, I saw pictures illustrating that even as late as the 1940s, the roads converging in the Carlisle rotary were still unpaved. Herb and Jean Bates’s daughter, Connie Metivier, recalls that as a girl in the 1960s, she and her best friend used to ride their horses all over town every day on those roads.
The Metivier family continues the legacy
The Lee-Kovach family from Prospect Street gets their Christmas tree for the second year since they moved here from California. Ralph Metivier helps Marty Kovach carry it. Metivier is flanked by Kovach’s wife Amy Lee and son August Lee-Kovach. (Photo by Linda Myers-Tierney)
Today Jason manages the Maine tree farm and enjoys weekends there throughout the year. Clearly it is a special place for him and the whole family. The Christmas tree business is an adjunct to his Carlisle-based property maintenance business, J.B. Metivier Inc., and is still very much a family affair. Now Jason’s sister, Jessica, makes the arrangements, and her children are growing up involved too. Her son Nicky, age ten, makes the bluebird boxes you will see sold there.
|Nicky Condron (left) with the bluebird houses he makes and sells; salesman Sammy, front; and mom Jessica Metivier with the evergreen floral arrangements she makes and sells. (Photo by Linda Myers-Tierney)|
Herb Bates loved returning to Carlisle this time every year to his family and the community he had loved and served his whole life. I always think of him warmly as I decorate my Christmas tree and I think of how he lived his life and embodied the spirit of service and generosity in a small town. His life is among the examples we think of when we feel gratitude for Carlisle and when we think of how we can make our own small contributions to this community. ∆