Donna Schroyer’s 13 Christmas trees started with one.
Every year, Schroyer transforms her Benner Township home into a holiday showcase, decorating her foyer, kitchen and other rooms in elaborate fashion. Anchoring her displays are ornate artificial trees, trimmed with peacock feathers and faux grape clusters as well as more traditional ribbons and glittering ornaments.
None matters more to her than the tree that once brought joy to a crowded Altoona house.
Money was tight for Schroyer’s parents trying to raise six children. Several times the railroad furloughed her father, an engine supervisor. Toys were a luxury sacrificed to paying bills.
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But when Christmas came, the family tree stood over piles. Schroyer treasures the memory. All the presents were miraculous, proof of Santa Claus: Where else could they have come from if not him?
“That set the tone for my love of Christmas,” Schroyer said.
Today, Schroyer annually re-creates her childhood magic throughout the house she and her husband, Ken, built in 1983. Starting in early November, she spends three weeks laying out decorations, planning arrangements and trimming her trees, boxes scattered all over.
“You know that show ‘Hoarders’?” she said. “That’s what it looks like.”
Out of the clutter emerges splendor.
In the spacious den, the “memory tree” rises 8 feet, spanning 7 feet at its widest and bursting with heirloom, keepsake and gift ornaments. It’s the couple’s largest tree and a custom model, made for them in 1987 after they realized the 33-foot-long room swallowed up normal-sized trees.
Five thousand lights illuminate the tree inside and out. Schroyer leaves the wiring to her husband, who works locally at FireOne Pyrotechnics Management Inc. and handles all the seasonal electrical duties.
“I lovingly refer to him as the techno-elf, and I’m the deco-elf,” she said.
She’s also Italian-American, and her kitchen tree honors that heritage. In keeping with the room’s rustic Tuscan theme — including a painted sun on the ceiling — the tree is festooned with lighted grape clusters, frosted apples and pears and vine ornaments.
For the living room’s centerpiece, an old-fashioned upside-down tree in a table stand, Schroyer chose peacock feathers to complement plainer green feathers, turquoise balls, pearls and other ornaments. Perched on a golden spread, the tree looks as though it could have adorned a salon of yore.
That’s certainly true for the main upstairs tree, which stands prominently in a Victorian-themed bedroom all mauve and white. The tree fits in, with rose decorations, red ribbons and a white star matching the period furniture, silk-shaded lamps and a mannequin attired in a dress and parasol.
Schroyer’s trees haven’t always been as fancy.
She and her husband were living in a small State College apartment when they stopped at a yard sale. In the driveway was a forlorn tree, a Charlie Brown special. Schroyer couldn’t help herself.
“I sort of half-jokingly said, ‘No Christmas tree should be without a house,’ ” she recalled.
From there, her collection grew — thanks to her husband’s love for bargain hunting.
“That’s how it expanded,” she said. “He kept bringing back Christmas trees from yard sales.”
Those have since been replaced by new models, including three flat, hanging “wall trees” in the bathrooms and a six-foot tree topped by an angel with flapping wings. Around it, beneath the staircase decorated with bulbs, white ribbons and garlands, a cluster of large mechanical holiday figures — two angels, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, reindeer, bears, carolers — present a festive scene in cottony snow.
Reminiscent of a store window display, it’s also a magnet for young guests.
“This is the one the children like,” Schroyer said. “Everything moves.”
Friends like Tom Pelick, of Patton Township, are equally dazzled. He and Ken Schroyer belong to a monthly poker group that likes the trees and decorations so much they always schedule their December game at the house.
Pelick called the arrangements “phenomenal,” saying they instantly put guests in a holiday mood.
“Everybody in the poker group feels the same way,” Pelick said. “They leave there with a real feeling of Christmas spirit.”
For Schroyer, each laden, glittering tree takes her back to family gathered on Christmas Eve, to midnight Mass, to a glowing anticipation. They bring out the wide-eyed little girl once again.
“I have so many I love, it’s hard to pick a favorite,” she said. “They all have their special qualities.”