Since his son died 14 years ago, Paul Binkley has visited Weymouth’s Fairmount Cemetery almost every day. And around Christmas each year, his son’s grave has become a scene of remembrance for the community.
In October 1998, Christopher Binkley died at age 11 from an inoperable brain tumor. That December, his father set up a tree next to Christopher’s grave and decorated it with ornaments, including a small wooden rocking horse bearing the word “Christopher.”
“I just wanted to make sure he had a Christmas tree,” said Binkley, a 60-year-old resident of Weymouth. “I wanted to do something special for my son.”
Every Christmas season, Binkley set up a tree near the grave. But after a couple of years of putting up ornaments just for Christopher, Binkley decided to invite others to hang bulbs with a loved ones’ name or picture.
“I thought it would be more of a special thing for [Christopher] if other people put ornaments up,” he said.
The ornaments have names and pictures of people on them; some Binkley knows, some he doesn’t. The tree has become a town memorial, open to anyone who has lost someone. It’s covered in candy canes, stuffed animals, ribbons, and bulbs. A Santa hat Christopher wore on his first Christmas is perched at the top of the tree, which is 14 feet tall this year.
On his way home from his jobs as a meat cutter at both Roche Brothers and Stop & Shop, Binkley checks on the tree and visits his son’s grave. He makes sure the dozens of ornaments that have accumulated over the years haven’t been blown off or shattered by the wind.
When it snows, Binkley shovels a path to the tree. He feels it’s his responsibility to make the tree accessible to those who want to hang an ornament and to preserve as many ornaments as he can.
Binkley saves the decorations every year. He packs them away each January, storing them at his home until the next December.
Then, with the help of his wife, Sharon, their son Scott, and a few friends, he sets it all back up.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
For the past five years, Binkley has gotten the massive tree for free from Peter Tamborella, who owns That Blooming Place Too in Pembroke. Tamborella said trees like the ones he gives Binkley usually cost betwen $225 and $300.
“I thought it was a great idea, of course,” Tamborella said. “I saw that it made him happy, and little things like that make me happy.”
When Tamborella’s older brother died in 2010, Binkley made and hung an ornament on the tree for him.
On a recent overcast afternoon, Binkley stood at his son’s grave with a few of his friends who had stopped by to hang a new ornament in memory of Christopher.
After they left, Binkley pulled a framed photo of his son out of his car. Coping with Christopher’s death has not gotten any easier over the years, he said.
The tree “does make me feel good, though,’’ he said. “It does help, but it still stinks.”Emily Files can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.