The tree is bound for the roof of Macy’s at Lenox Square Mall, where it will be decorated and lighted at a Thanksgiving night celebration. Jennifer Green said her grandfather, J.T. Green, intended the pine to be the Great Tree when he planted it after Christmas in 1977.
“It was a dream of my Popsy,” she said. “We would walk around it, and he always wanted it to be the tree. When he planted it, he had the purpose for it to go on the building.”
The tree was cut down Thursday and placed on a truck bound for the Buckhead mall just shy of 10 years since J.T. died in January 2003. He originally bought the then six-foot tree and put it inside the house to celebrate Jennifer’s first Christmas after she was born in August 1977.
“He had it in a tub of sand,” said J.T.’s widow, Freddie Green, who still lives in the house J.T. built on Factory Shoals Road. “I thought, ‘How is he going to get that out of here?’ But he did. We didn’t think it would live.”
After Christmas, J.T. planted the tree beside the house and nursed it through droughts and other weather problems.
“I remember him out there one summer with the hose watering it because it had kind of turned a brown color,” Jennifer said. “He said he didn’t want it to die, so he took care of it.”
She remembers asking J.T. if she could build a treehouse in the big pine.
“He said, ‘I don’t think so, Granddaughter,’ ” Jennifer said.
Workers came to Freddie’s house on Wednesday and spent nine hours tying up the tree so it could fit on a flatbed truck for the 20-mile trip to Lenox, said Wilbur Guy with Austell-based Entertainment Design Group Inc., which produces the Christmas tree lighting celebration for Macy’s.
“It’s quite a job because they start from the top and they work down,” Guy said.
With leaves still changing colors on non-evergreen trees, workers returned at 6:30 a.m. Thursday with an 80-foot crane and laid down plywood in the yard to support the machinery. Guy said they tied yellow straps to the top and bottom of the 14,000-pound tree to lift it onto the flatbed and didn’t leave the yard until around noon.
Jennifer said the family plans to go watch the tree placed atop the Macy’s store on Sunday.
Decorating the tree will continue up until Thanksgiving on Nov. 22. Among the items placed on it will be 100 red Macy’s stars; 100 white snowflakes; 1,200 basketball sized metallic ornaments; along with 50 flashing strobe lights; 400 internally lit ornaments and 4,000 11-watt bulbs. It will be topped with a color-changing Macy’s star.
The lighting ceremony lasts from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and is topped off by a fireworks show to holiday music. The event will include performances by country music star Trace Adkins, “The Voice” finalist Chris Mann and Nickelodeon star Cymphonique Miller.
“We always go to the tree lighting, but we didn’t know all the production that went into it,” Jennifer said.
Guy said he’s been eyeing the Greens’ tree for the past five years. It met Entertainment Design Group’s criteria of being straight, filled out and green. It was also accessible to the cutters.
“It may be real pretty, but if it’s behind the house, I can’t get to it,” he said.
Macy’s always keeps a backup tree available in case something happens to the chosen Christmas tree, like last year when the tree snapped while being lifted to the roof at Lenox Square. Guy said this year’s backup is located on Ben Hill Road in Douglas County.
Guy usually scouts Georgia white pines from within a 100-mile radius of Atlanta, keeping a log of possible trees years in advance. He said that in the 13 years he has been picking out trees, this is the fourth time the winner has come from Cobb County.
When Guy came to ask Freddie Green for the tree, it didn’t take much persuasion.
“I said, ‘It’s yours,’” she said. “He said, ‘We don’t usually get that.’”
Macy’s pays the family for the tree and cleans up any damage caused by cutting it down. Freddie said she didn’t even know what she would be paid, while Macy’s spokeswoman Melissa Goff said the company doesn’t release that amount.
“This is our gift to Atlanta,” Goff said.
The Great Tree tradition started in 1948 at the downtown Atlanta Rich’s store and moved to Lenox Square in 2000. It became the Macy’s Great Tree in 2006 after the stores were merged.
The Green family will be given seedlings off the tree to enable them to plant a new pine. Jennifer plans to plant a tree at the home of her father, Tommy Green, in Douglasville. She hopes to start a new Christmas tradition with her son, who is due in January.
But the family will never forget J.T., who was a deacon at nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church in Mableton, and the tree he loved.
“I hope they’ll know it was done in honor of him, because he loved people,” Freddie said.