It all began with a scene straight out of an old Frank Capra movie.
One morning 15 years ago, with Christmas fast approaching, Brent "Ringo" Tarr walked into the kitchen of the Tarr family's farmhouse and said, "We have a problem, we have no Christmas tree."
Now, no Christmas tree with Christmas fast approaching would be a problem in lots of family's books, but in the Tarr family's book, it was a very, very big problem.
Thanks, in large part, to the Tarrs' concerted efforts, the children of Gloucester had come to expect a tree of about 40 feet in height and several tons in weight to appear as if by magic — glowing with thousands of lights amidst a little lit forest of twinkling crab apple trees at Kent Circle.
Ringo Tarr — along with his brothers, state Senator Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Brian Tarr, assistant superintendent of Gloucester Schools — had begun that tradition several years earlier in response to the West Gloucester's community's collective desire for "a tree of their own." And in the past, they'd relied on good luck and local backyards to find Kent Circle's "Green Giants."
But that year, Ringo Tarr — the self-appointed Paul Bunyon of the bunch — had simply come up empty-handed in his search for a perfect tree. And like the Jimmy Stewart character in Capra's Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," he was looking for a Christmas miracle to save the day.
What might be an option, suggested Ringo's brother, Bruce, was sending out a fisherman's SOS to Gloucester's sister city, Shelburne, Nova Scotia.
Gloucester and Shelburne had a long history of helping each other. The two fishing ports had been each other's safe harbors through centuries of storm-tossed seas. And, more recently, had been discussing a new bond, through joint business ventures in tourism and energy, that could make them future economic partners.
As state lawmaker, Bruce Tarr had developed a good working relationship with Shelburne's city leaders — and a good working knowledge of Nova Scotia itself.
One of Canada's three Atlantic Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia is, among other things, "the Balsam Fir capital of the world," exporting more than 2 million Christmas trees annually. Could the province, Bruce Tarr wondered over the phone to the mayor of Shelburne, possibly spare one more of its famous firs for Gloucester's Kent Circle?
The answer came in the form of a 38-foot Nova Scotia fur. And in all the years since, the Nova Scotia green giants have kept on coming from Shelburne to Gloucester every November, by land and sea, and a variety of vehicles.
Most recently. it's arrived via an annual odyssey which, for the Tarr brothers, has evolved into what Bruce Tarr likens to a 12-hour international triathlon, "... an Iron Man Challenge of Christmas Tree hunts," he says.
The longest and arguably toughest leg of the three legs of the journey is by ferry, across wild, winter-whipped North Atlantic waters. But the senator, who has videotaped years of footage of the annual trips, clearly loves every minute of them. So, too, does his brother, Ringo.
Over the course of 15 years, the people of Shelburne have, the brothers agree, become friends.
The friendships may not, as they do here in Gloucester, go back to school days, but — like the Nova Scotia "Green Giants" themselves— they've grown with time.
"I walk the streets up there," says Ringo Tarr, and they know my name. "'Hey, Ringo!' they'll say, 'How're ya doing?'"
Ringo Tarr is doing just fine this year. The trip to Shelburne went without a hitch, and he and his traveling partner, St. Peter's Fiesta Committee chief Joe Novello, delivered a bouncing 38-foot Nova Scotia Fir to Gloucester, and, thanks to the mild November weather and the help of friends like Ed McCann and Joe Ciolino, had it raised, decorated, and ready for lighting last weekend.
An electrical contractor, Ringo Tarr — like the Thomas Edison protege who first introduced the "electric Christmas tree" back in the 1880s — is a born inventor.
As the mastermind who makes the "magic" of the Kent Circle tree happen, his inventiveness has included — among countless other things — the planning and construction of the 12-by-12-foot underground infrastructure that "houses" and supports the trees.
Designed to withstand winds of up to a 100 miles an hour, Ringo Tarr's two tons of poured cement support largely stood the test of last December's Nor' Easter admirably.
Though badly battered and, well, downsized, Gloucester's Kent Circle tree did not — like the national tree on Washington, D.C.'s, Ellipse — actually topple over in the storm.
Though the Kent Circle tree owes much to the Tarr family, the Tarr brothers are quick to give credit to "legions" of "Christmas Angels" in both cities who donate their time, energy, elbow grease, ingenuity and equipment ranging from flatbed trucks, trailers, earth movers, cranes.
Like the gifts of the Magi, Shelburne's trees travel from afar, across seas the two old fishing ports have shared for centuries, where, says Bruce Tarr, "the long-standing philosophy is that all men must always help each other."
Especially, at Christmas.
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at email@example.com.