For 89-year-old Neil Olson, the 40-year-old Christmas tree standing slim but proud inside his living room is a reminder of his dearest wish: to see all his six sons sitting around the same tree for Christmas.
When Olson put up the same spruce tree in 1974, he had one thought in mind. He would take down the Christmas tree only when all his six children return home for the holidays. At that time, two of his sons were sent off to war. Since then, the family has never seen a Christmas with all of them together, so Olson's tree, complete with its yellowing but strong needles and the hundred-year-old lights and ornaments from Germany, still sits inside his living room.
"Most of 'em don't last," Olson told the Wausau Daily Herald. "The needles are kept on for a reason. It's supernatural, I say."
Five of Olson's sons, some of whom were named after kings, such as James, John and Rich, short for Richard, live nearby in Wausau. However, one named Barry lives in Washington. Barry returned to the United States from Vietnam injured, and he hadn't been able to travel to Wisconsin to see his family during Christmas, although he remains constantly in touch with them.
"I bet you if my sixth boy comes home, the needles will drop off," Olson said.
Olson is still waiting for that day, and the tree from 1974 remains alive until all six children, now in their 50s and 60s with their own families, are together one more time for the holidays.
Rich Olson, one of his sons, said the tree has become part of his father's life.
"It's part of the furniture," he said. "It's like family now. I hate to take it down."
No official record has been made on the world's longest standing natural Christmas tree, but Olson believes his tree has set the bar. For 40 years now, Olson's tree has remained unlit, and he suspects lighting them up will spark up the tree.
"It'd just blow up on me," Olson said. "All that dust on there. It'd be like an atomic bomb."
Days before Christmas, Olson told the Daily Herald that looking at the 40-year-old Christmas tree reminds him of past Christmases and memories of fishing and skating with his sons.
This Christmas, Barry won't be able to come home, and the tree will have to wait another year to see the whole family together again. In the meantime, Olson has a simple plan to celebrate this year's holidays.
"Sit with the boys, drink a couple beers, talk about old times and go to bed," he said.