The tree was packed with ornaments. There was the plush Beanie Baby Santa doll, the tiny porcelain coffee cup, a silver flute, a noel sign.
Sue Bullis reached into a plastic container, however, to grab her favorites — a dozen simple balls, decorated by third-graders with glitter and tissue paper. Plenty of glue, too — the ornaments stuck to the plastic as she pulled them out, walked them over to her artificial Christmas tree and found an open branch.
“They’re just beautiful,” she said, smiling. “They glisten with the light.”
Decorating the tree is a Bullis family tradition. This year, though, their community played a huge role in the first holiday season since the Bullis family suffered tremendous losses.
As she decorated with a few friends Thursday night, Bullis was very composed, but occasionally the ornaments triggered memories of her husband, son and mother-in-law, who all died in the San Bruno natural-gas explosion Sept. 9.
A set of four snowmen reminded her of her husband, Greg, son, William, mother-in-law, Lavonne, and the family dog, Lucky.
The tree, though artificial, reminded Sue of when she and Greg cut down a live tree in Half Moon Bay when they were first married. When they returned home, “all of the sudden, there were these little black bugs everywhere,” Bullis said with a smile.
For the first holiday season since the explosion, parishioners at Bethany Presbyterian Church and other community members donated ornaments by the dozens to replace the decorations she lost.
Bullis’ mother-in-law, husband and son, a senior at Mills High School, were home at the time of the pipeline explosion, which was right next to their house. Bullis was at work at the time. Her daughter, 24-year-old Janine, lives in Sunnyvale and also was not in the San Bruno home at the time of the disaster.
Bullis invited The San Francisco Examiner into her San Bruno apartment to express her appreciation for the community’s support — most recently with the Christmas gifts.
“It was overwhelming, to say the least, to see the love and outpouring for us,” Bullis said. “The community has just been so wonderful. Just everybody has been right there with me.”
Many of the ornaments came from donations organized by family friends and Mountain View resident Jenisa Nazzaro, 24, who has never met the Bullis family, but has a friend who attends Bethany.
Nazzaro started an “Ornaments for Love” Facebook page to spread the word, and more than 100 ornaments poured in.
Before reaching the end of the decorations, there was no more room on the tree. It will probably stay up into the new year — per family tradition — in case people want to come by and see it.
“Janine and I are very grateful for the love they’ve shown to us, that doesn’t ask for anything,” Bullis said. “It’s just given out of love.”
Holiday giving for San Bruno victims
City of San Bruno
Glenview Fire Recovery Fund,
First National Bank of Northern California,
Millbrae-San Bruno Branch,
1551 El Camino Real,
Millbrae, CA 94030
Silicon Valley Community Foundation
San Bruno Fire Fund,
2440 West El Camino Real, Suite 300,
Mountain View, CA 94040
San Bruno Lions Club
P.O. Box 242,
San Bruno, CA 94066