When Cynthia Laymon sat in a dark hospital lobby years ago waiting while her son was being treated, feeling alone and scared, the last thing she wanted to look at was a pathetic-looking Christmas tree.
"I was the only person there with this really ugly Christmas tree," Laymon said. "I think part of the reason it was so bad might have been that they couldn't have any glass on it because of the kids. So maybe they were afraid of something happening, but it was just awful. It just looked like nobody took the time and nobody cared enough to make something that was pretty. It was a reminder of the season and all that was going on, and where I was, and no one had taken the time to make it pretty and joyous. I really wished it wasn't there."
Looking at the sad tree did inspire Laymon in one way, though. She decided right then and there that no one should have to look at something like that when they were feeling the same as her. The once art professor, now living on disability, started her own tradition.
She decided to decorate trees for Christmas and donate them to places like hospitals, homeless shelters, or anywhere else that might need a little extra cheer for the holidays.
If you've seen any of trees, like the one currently on display at the Pecos Senior Center, you'd know this is not a part-time hobby that Laymon throws together. It is an art form that has taken years to perfect.
Each tree has a carefully crafted theme. In the past Laymon has decorated a fruit-themed tree; a Southwest tree; a tree she titled "For the Birds," with plastic birds, nests and hand-crafted ornaments using bird seed; a royal Christmas tree, a Caribbean Christmas tree covered with fish, hand-crafted sparkling faux seaweed and a garland of woven pearls and sea shells; a copper canyon tree (Laymon's personal favorite); an enchanted garden tree; and a candy land tree, whose theme was so much fun to do Laymon ended up collecting enough for three trees. Laymon says she has several more tree themes in the works, and that it's actually difficult for her to control herself from thinking up more.
Laymon works with a small team of herself, her best friend Mary Chavez, and Mary's husband Pete. Together they collect the ornaments, purchase the trees, find the charity, and install the trees. In the past Laymon has hosted extravagant holiday parties asking friends to bring an ornament for the charity tree's theme that year, but she says the parties are a bit much for her to do every year, and that after collecting so many ornaments it's no longer necessary.
The trees have gone to battered women's shelters, homeless shelters, hospitals and treatment centers like the one Laymon's son was in years ago. She's also had her trees auctioned off by the Ronald McDonald House and the Salvation Army. In a better economy her trees have raised as much as $6,000.
All these years Laymon has remained under the radar, for the most part. She's never asked for help to purchase the trees or the extravagant decorations, even though she's spending her limited income on it. I had to ask: Why do it?
"I think of me sitting in that hospital room all those years ago and how I felt," Laymon said. "I don't want anyone to feel like that. If you're sitting in a hospital room all alone and your child is sick or you're alone and with nowhere to go, I want them to have something beautiful to look at for the holidays. I want them to not feel so alone. That's why I do it."
For anyone who has had a tough Christmas and then seen something beautiful that lifted your spirits, even just a little, that's why Laymon does it.
If you are interested in helping, Laymon says her biggest challenge is affording the trees. She has to have nice trees in order to make them truly beautiful. Laymon needs new, pre-lit trees with 900 tips and 600 to 700 lights. Personally, she scours sales each year to find a good tree for $100. Cash would also be helpful. If they receive enough donations, Laymon said she'd be willing to start a nonprofit to keep her holiday tradition going. She can be contacted by email at Cynthia.email@example.com, or by phone at (480) 598-8540.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or firstname.lastname@example.org