BROOKSVILLE — Sometimes when you have a big job to do, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.
That’s what happened earlier this month at the Brooksville Community Center, where more than a dozen Brooksville residents put together 268 wreaths for the 268 veterans buried in cemeteries across the town. Though the wreath-makers were all volunteers, many of them had decades of professional experience making wreaths every holiday season with the Penobscot River Greens Inc. (PRG), also called the Christmas Greens Shop.
“I make these for wholesale all day,” said Sandy Slater, who has worked at PRG since the early 1980s. “I could make four dozen of these a day when I was younger.”
Making wreaths is not a simple task: it takes technique to work stiff fir branches into a bunch and wrap it around a wire rim in a neat circle, and it takes years of practice to do it in less than 15 minutes. Slater said she could make a wreath in 5 to 9 minutes.
“I didn’t have to be picky about things like brush size, the shade of the fir and decorations like chestnuts, acorns, pinecones and berries,” Slater said.
Being picky was more the job of Lorraine Dyer, who carefully arranged moss, bows, bells and other decorations for the PRG storefront and mail orders during her 20 years at PRG. Dyer also had to make sure all her decorated wreaths were the right weight to save on shipping costs.
“It took me forever to learn,” Dyer said.
But all that attention to detail led her to some big-name clientele. Dyer recalled how, in 1979 or 1980, her boss, Conrad Rupert — the original owner of PRG — told Dyer he had an order from James Levine, the director of the Metropolitan Opera. Levine had ordered two wreaths with pine cones for his two tenors, Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, who were among the best in the world.
“Conrad said to me ‘I know you like to sing and make music. Would you like to make them?’” Dyer recalled. “I don’t know if wreath-making is a career, but that was close enough to the high point of it.”
The veterans for whom the wreaths were made last month weren’t nearly as famous as those opera tenors. In fact, many of the Brooksville volunteers spent months going through the town archives looking for burial records of the veterans, some of whom fought as early as the Revolutionary War. Finding the graves also proved to be a challenge, because many of the town’s 25 cemeteries are on small yards tucked away in the woods.
“There was a lot of work going into this day,” said Brooksville resident Audrey Peasley, another volunteer at the wreath-making. “And a lot more after.”
Once Slater, Dyer and other volunteers completed each wreath, a red, white and blue ribbon was tied to it, and the wreaths were placed in a truck bed, ready to be put on a grave. Though not all of the seven truckloads of brush brought in were suitable for wreaths, the leftovers were made into sprill-pillows that were sold at Brooksville’s Holiday Craft Fair after Thanksgiving. All the proceeds from the sprill-pillows went towards the town’s Bicentennial celebrations. At 10:00 a.m. on Dec. 4, the wreaths will be placed simultaneously at all the town’s cemeteries. And at 1 p.m. that day, “Taps” will be played as a single wreath is placed in honor of all those Brooksville veterans who did not return, or were not found.
“This seemed like a great project,” said Brooksville Town Office Assistant Gayle Clifford. “In order to celebrate our future, we’re going to remember our past.”