For more than 20 years, Jerry and Shelia Talbert have lived among the trees … Christmas trees that is.
The couple own Grovestone Christmas Tree Farm in Albemarle. It’s a spacious tree farm just outside of town where you can still pick out and cut down your Christmas tree, have it bundled and placed on your vehicle for the ride home to decorate.
It’s been a long-standing tradition for many to take a trip someplace to pick out that special tree that will look just right for the holidays. And while it seems so many people are making the trip to the mountains in search of that special centerpiece for the house, it’s still nice to know you only have to go a few miles down the road to get the same experience.
“The most complicated process is the actual picking out of the tree,” Jerry said.
“Everybody wants to get that perfect tree and 95 percent of the time, the first tree they look at and study is the one they’ll come back to. Even though they look at everyone in the field.”
Jerry and Shelia planted their first trees in 1989. It then took the two patient, hard-working individuals 6-7 years to prune, spray and shape the trees during their maturation process before they were ready to start selling.
This is the first season the couple haven’t planted any new trees. Jerry owns and operates J. Talbert Ltd., an upscale men’s clothing shop that he moved from Albemarle to Concord a couple of years ago. The business keeps him busy Tuesday-Saturday, which makes running the farm on Fridays and Saturdays tricky.
They aren’t going out of business anytime soon. They figure they still have 2-3 more seasons of trees left for customers to pick out. But a fruitful and rewarding side business, one that likely saved Jerry’s life in many ways, is drawing to a close.
“We’re not planting any more trees, but it’s going to take us a couple of years to get out of it,” Jerry said.
“It’s been an enjoyable time to see the reward we afford people for them not to have to drive to the mountains. They want to come and pick a tree out and have all the benefits of going to the mountains and they don’t have to drive that far.”
Jerry got the idea of the trees from his friend, Jack Magnum, who lives in South Carolina. Magnum also runs a Christmas tree farm and encouraged Jerry to look into it also following the death of his daughter, Jane Gray Talbert, from a previous marriage.
Jane developed mononucleosis that later became a lymphoma. She passed away in October 1989 about 30 days after she was admitted to the hospital.
“(Magnum) told me one day ‘Jerry, if you don’t start doing something, you’re going to go into a depression and you are not going to come out of it,’ ” Jerry said.
“Of course, he had already sensed I was kind of going into that. He said ‘I’m going to get you started in something that will occupy your time.’ So he gave me a bag of Christmas trees and said ‘Go plant these and call me in about six weeks and I’ll tell you what you’ve got to start to do to them.’ ”
So he began working on the trees and later met and married Shelia. Both experiences helped ease the pain and brought Jerry’s spirits back to life.
“It probably, in the long run, probably saved my life,” Jerry said.
“It was just a traumatic time for me. Working in the trees, there’s something to do to those trees all the time. It occupied my time and kept me from thinking.
“Of course it’s a lot of physical work and physical work works on your endorphins and it keeps you from going into a depression. That’s what actually inspired me to get into it.
“My friend is still in it and I said one day ‘I don’t know if I should hug you or hit you.’ ”
Shelia will typically serve hot cider for visitors. She once thought doing that might not be as receptive to the customers and stopped doing it. But she realized quickly that the cider was just a part of the tradition that many people participate in when picking out the tree.
She also recalls several stories of people making an annual pilgrimage of sorts to visit, wandering through the vast amounts of trees and watching as the children’s eyes light up at the thought of grabbing that one special tree.
“A lot of them have made it a family tradition to come here,” Shelia said.
It’s a tradition that won’t be around forever but has been rewarding in so many ways.
“We are going to miss all the customers that have made it a tradition to come out and choose their tree,” Jerry said.
“They have been loyal.
“The ones that started with us, we’ve still got them coming back that started with us that first year. It’s a rewarding experience just to be able to help people out, really.”