A Very Fine Line
“If you get there by 4 a.m., you’ll probably be seventh or eighth in line,” I was advised. That turned out to be true.
Last year, for the first time, I decided to wait in line to buy a fabled “Bucky Tree” at Dickens of a Christmas in Wellsboro. Crafted by Stephen “Bucky” Buckner Green, the carved wooden trees are a coveted collectible from the annual celebration.
Early that Saturday morning, Wellsboro’s Main Street was quiet except for a small gathering of hardy folks at the corner of Main and Crafton streets in front of Northwest Savings Bank—the traditional spot for Bucky’s sales. Like the others, I arrived with a lawn chair, comforter, and blanket, bundled up as best as possible for the thirty-degree weather (a milder forecast than some Dickens mornings). We looked like a line-up for hot concert tickets.
One lady, hailing from the Allentown area, was smartly dressed in an orange snowmobile suit. She had lined her bulky boots with insole foot warmers and her large gloves with hand warmers. Except for the fact that she resembled (and moved like) the snowsuited boy in A Christmas Story, I was a bit envious of her ensemble.
The glow of the gaslights, Christmas trees and wreaths on the boulevards, and the storefront lights of the town’s closed shops, illuminated the scene, as did the radiance emanating from the Penn Wells Hotel across the street.
As a newbie to this Victorian vigil, I had to learn the ropes. Most of the others waiting in line in front of me and those who queued after seemed to know what they were doing. I was happy when I realized “the rules” of this encampment allowed for trips to the Penn Wells’ bathroom and fireplace, as well as dashes down the street to Dunkin’—without losing your spot in line. As we huddled in conversation, the veterans shared stories of their sleepless tradition and wild admiration for Bucky’s craftsmanship. They referred to themselves as “Bucky friends” and “a Bucky family.”
At the front of the line was an empty chair. Next to it was a young woman in her early thirties, cuddled up under a sleeping bag. Her smile was as bright as all the lights on Main Street. This was Alyssa Hars, and she was “holding space” for her mother, Susan Sweet Hars, a native of Wellsboro who was quite possibly Bucky’s longest, most devoted fan. Battling breast cancer, Sue was resting at her brother’s home nearby.
Sue began collecting Bucky trees more than twenty-five years ago, and was often first in line on Dickens morning. Alyssa joined her mother in the tradition in the early 2000s. The Hars women have collected over 100 Bucky trees for the “Bucky forest” in their New Jersey home.
“Growing up in Tioga County, she always loved the woods,” Alyssa says of her mother’s tree obsession. “And she loved Wellsboro. She was very proud of where she came from.”
A star athlete for Wellsboro, Sue graduated in 1976 and earned a phys ed degree from Lock Haven University in 1980. In June that year she met Michael Hars, a young history teacher and football coach in Wellsboro. The couple later moved to New Jersey to teach and coach, but returned regularly with their daughters.
“We didn’t do vacations as kids,” Alyssa says. “We didn’t go to the Caribbean or to Disney, we’d always go to Wellsboro. To us, Wellsboro was every Hallmark movie you’ve ever watched and every Norman Rockwell painting you’ve ever seen...It just feels like home. It’s like in The Wizard of Oz: ‘There’s no place like home.’ And there’s no place like Wellsboro.”
Alyssa says her parents, married for thirty-five years, wanted to retire in Wellsboro, but Mike passed away in March 2017 following a heart attack, and Sue lost her battle with cancer about one month after Dickens last year. They were both sixty. Sue’s gravestone in the Wellsboro Cemetery is engraved with two Bucky trees—an ode to her favorite collectible and to her two daughters.
“It touches my heart that people love the trees,” says Bucky. “I’ve met so many wonderful people, like Alyssa and her mother, and developed so many friendships through selling this product. The camaraderie and reunion of friends every year at Dickens really amazes me, and I’m so thankful.”
The camaraderie in the “Bucky family” helped establish a certain etiquette in the sales line in the early 2000s.
With hopes of squashing any Black Friday-type chaos, Alyssa says she and her mother talked to the other devoted Bucky fans, including borough residents Cindy and Steve Frost, and everyone agreed on a plan: If you’re first in line, you select your trees while the others wait, then motion to the next person in line that it’s their turn and so on.
“Since about 2003 or 2004, we’ve been very regimented that way and on top of it,” Alyssa says. “I don’t know what happens further on down the line, it might get dicey, but for the people who’ve waited all morning, you get your turn.”
This procedure is what impressed me the most last year when sales began at 9 a.m.
Although I intended to only buy one tree, the others had laughed and warned I’d “get Bucky fever” and want more. Indeed, I bought four. They also chuckled when I said I was only waiting in line one time. “Oh, we all said that, but we came back. And you’ll be back, too,” they replied.
I think I will return this year. If not for myself, I’d like to support Alyssa.
“Even though Mom won’t be there, I still have plans to go,” she says. “It’ll be like nothing has changed. It’s our true tradition.”