What seems like a holiday decoration to bikers, joggers and walkers along the Northfield bike path is a symbol of comfort to the Brenner family that lives nearby.
A Christmas tree has been kept lit near a bench dedicated to Casey Brenner, one of the four teens involved in a fatal car crash in 2011. John Brenner, the teen’s father, has watched the number of ornaments grow since he first set up the tree last year. Friends, family and neighbors add to the decorations with pictures, messages, ornaments or mementos.
“Casey loved Christmas,” Brenner said. “I dress up as Santa, and he used to help me get ready. He would come as my helper, and help me give treats to kids.”
Brenner said he’s repeated this Christmas ritual for the past 15 years. Usually, the city’s volunteer fire department takes on the task until Dec. 23, he said. After that, Brenner said, he takes over and visits on Christmas Eve and Day.
“Holidays are a hard time for those who have lost loved ones,” he said.
Brenner said he tried to bring holiday cheer by visiting the homes of children who recently lost their mothers or fathers. It is heartwarming “to see the tears in the grandparents eyes,” he said.
For Brenner, keeping the tree near the bench dedicated to his son feels like he is celebrating with him close to home.
“I’d rather go down there (to the bench) than the cemetery,” he said.
He visits the tree every few days and observes people looking at the ornaments and messages hung around it. Ornaments numbered nearly 300 this year, Brenner said. It took him almost 2.5 hours to put up all the decorations. Pictures have been added with messages, and if any of the decorations falls, Brenner said, he makes sure to secure them to the tree with zip ties.
“I’m the caretaker of the tree,” he joked.
The tree is lit, with a cord running from an outlet on a nearby light pole. Mayor Vince Mazzeo said that normally it is not allowed, but permission was granted in light of the situation.
“If it helps him get through the holidays, then it’s something I’m willing to do a bit of goodwill for,” Mazzeo said. “But this is not a precedent or a policy.”
Brenner said he will be paying for the electricity used, which should “be a couple dollars.” Next year, he said, the tree will be battery operated. Mazzeo agreed to allow the tree to stay lit until Jan. 1, Brenner said.
“It was something that affected the whole community,” Mazzeo said of the 2011 crash.
Brenner noted the pole is similar to those found in Pleasantville and it has electrical outlets “for decorations.” The neighboring city uses the outlets to decorate for the holidays, and Brenner said Northfield should consider doing the same.
“It would be nice,” he said, and would add color to the neighborhood during the holiday season.
Brenner said he intends on making the tree a tradition, and will put one out near the bench every year.
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