11/23/06 — A tree for his little girl

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A tree for his little girl

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 23, 2006 8:20 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Ed Ellis' little girl won't be home for the holidays this year.

Instead, Goldsboro native and Rosewood High School graduate Cathy Jarrell will open Christmas gifts with her husband, Van, and daughter, Megan, around their tree on an Army base in Korea.

But even though she's stationed thousands of miles away, Ellis said he wanted do his best to give his 42-year-old daughter an Eastern North Carolina Christmas -- tree included.

And so, with the help of his friends down at Beautancus Christmas Trees and Wreaths, he put a Fraser fir in the mailbox Monday.

Next stop, South Korea.

"She'll have gotten something that belongs to North Carolina during the holidays," Ellis said. "That means a lot."

Still, getting a tree from the United States to Asia was no easy task.

After picking out the "right one" and constructing a custom box to deliver it in, Beautancus proprietor Leslie "Brownie" Southerland had to bring down a specialist from the N.C. Department of Agriculture to clear the fir for travel.

"You can't have any dirt on it, can't have any insects on it," Southerland said. "Just a tree. That's all it can be."

Luckily, it passed the test shortly before Ellis arrived to take the fir to the Goldsboro Post Office Monday morning.

"We've sent toys and stuff like that, but we never sent a tree before," he said. "I think she'll enjoy the smell of it all. Just the idea of having it."

He expects it to arrive on base in "seven or eight days I think they said."

The four strands of lights he sent last week will surely beat it.

And when his daughter's family sits down to decorate their North Carolina Christmas tree, he hopes they think of home.

"You miss them," he said. "It just feels like there's a hole in everything."

Cathy said she feels the same way. In a recent e-mail home, she talked about the things she has come to miss while stationed thousands of miles away from family and friends during the holidays.

"Last Thanksgiving ... Megan helped her grandfather pick out a Christmas tree from Mount Olive," she said. "This was a special occasion ... the time we spend with our family is treasured."

But this year, it was Grandpa's turn to pick out the tree -- for his daughter, son-in-law and 9-year-old pride and joy.

"The tree symbolizes much more than a Christmas decoration," Cathy said. "It symbolizes the love that our parents have for us and how they will always care for us."

Southerland said he has been growing and selling trees for more than 25 years and has never seen a gesture quite as touching -- a tree for a daughter -- and a soldier.

"This is special," he said. "Most people who are in the military look after us every day. It seems only right that we look after them -- even if it's only for one day a year. They are keeping it so we can fly our pretty flag."