Holiday book captures family spirit

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Overcast skies blanketed West’s Tree Farm on Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving, and its parking lot was full. Melissa Toquero stood near the entrance, pointing new arrivals to open spots.
Her chubby baby, Solomon, sat on her chest in a padded ergonomic backpack-style carrier, facing the world under a crocheted beanie and chewing on a strand of beads. Somewhere on the farm, her 4-year-old son, Atlas, ran around with his grandmother, carrying two plastic candy canes that were nearly his height. They were his guns, he said.

MELISSA TOQUERO, with baby Solomon in tow, spends a day helping out at West’s Tree Farm.

A whitewashed barn stood just beyond the parking lot. Golden globes of light beckoned visitors into the shelter where holiday wreaths could be purchased. On the door was a big blue poster indicating Nancey West’s new book could also be found inside.
Her children’s book, “Blessings of the Christmas Tree Farm,” features Nancey’s husband Jon West, their dog Annie, who passed away this summer, and Atlas, the boy with the candy-cane guns. Taking place on the family’s tree farm in Lebanon near the Sweet Home border, it’s the story of a little boy who wonders about Jesus’ birthday and what the Christmas tree represents.
“He goes to the tree farm and Mr. Jon tells him Bible stories and relates growing the trees to Bible stories,” she said.
Jon West, it should be noted, is warmly referred to as Mr. Jon. He gave Nancey some ideas for the story.
“I wanted to tell the story of what a blessing I think it is to have a place for people to come out and to help celebrate the Christmas story, without taking away from the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth,” he said.
And the two wanted to add one more touch.
“We’ve always had lots of dogs, and this summer we had to have our blue heeler, Annie, put down,” Mr. Jon said. “So Nancey wanted a picture of a dog on every page just as a remembrance of Annie.”
Atlas himself is very familiar with the book’s characters. While sitting on Mr. Jon’s lap, the two looked at the pages.

Atlas, with his candy cane “guns,” points to an illustration of himself.

“That’s me,” Atlas said, pointing to the little boy. He can spot himself on any of the pages.
“That’s me, and that’s you,” he said again, pointing to a page featuring him and Mr. Jon standing together.
On another page, he said, “That’s not me,” referring to an illustration of a different man and boy on the tree farm.
“That was actually a picture talking about my dad and me as a young man planting trees,” Mr. Jon explained.
Even Atlas’ family is in the book, including baby Solomon snug in the backpack carrier on his mom’s chest.
The Wests and Toqueros have been family friends for decades.
“Atlas goes to our church and he is very fond of Mr. Jon,” Nancey said. “He goes out to the farm and rides on the gator with Mr. Jon.”
Toquero said it was “pretty cool” to see the book, and she enjoyed Atlas’ reaction when he saw it for the first time.
“He was like, ‘That’s me and Mr. Jon!’” she said.
The Toqueros pick their Christmas tree every year at West’s Tree Farm.
“We come out here all the time,” she said. “(It’s) definitely one of our happy places, so it’s pretty special to have that in the book. It will be pretty sweet to pull out every year.”

Nancey West’s book is sold for $10 at West’s Tree Farm, Willamette Valley Christian Supply, and Amazon.com.