Christmas trees are a big subject of conversation this time of year, but in one Canby neighborhood you’ll find something a little different: Austin trees. They brighten the yards and walkways of every house along NE 12th Way in memory of one of Canby’s own: Austin Piert, an athlete at Canby High and Linfield College who died in a single-vehicle crash last February.
He was only 24, and had recently returned to Canby after graduating college. At the time, his many loved ones remembered him as a great friend who was always cheerful and smiling.
“Austin Piert was one of my best friends I ever had,” said one. “I have so many memories with him and it’s unbelievable that he has passed away. Everyone who knew him knew how lucky they were to be his friend.”
The idea for the display came from Manya Frazier, a member of the tight-knit little neighborhood on 12th Way, which includes 14 households, including the Pierts.
She said she knew difficult the holidays can be for a family still grieving such a tragic and unexpected loss, so she thought she would do what she can to bring a little light to their holidays.
As she was going door-to-door to collect neighborhood watch information, she asked if each family would be willing to be buy a tree and be part of the display. Not a single one said no.
The trees went up at the start of the month, and she said Debbie Piert soon came by to visit, wondering if the trees were part of a fundraiser or something. She broke down when she found out it was all about honoring her son.
They’re not Christmas trees, but lighted cherry blossom trees that offer a warm, cheery and inviting glow. Actually, they’re not cherry trees, either, Manya corrected herself: They’re Austin trees.
Manya said she was inspired because her own experience from when she was a child. Though her family’s tragedy — the loss of her brother — had happened in May, she remembered that Christmas had been a particularly difficult time.
Another 12th Way resident, Michele Quinn, said he was “so touched” by Frazier’s simple act of kindness and thoughtfulness.
“It’s our way of supporting one of our own, to show Debbie that we’re standing with her and the whole family during this hard time,” she said. “This just speaks Canby to me. We are grateful to live in such a caring community.”
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