Alabama Christmas

Alabama, 1963—it was chilly. It was gray. A skinny Christmas tree sat in the corner of his rundown home, undecorated. No gifts.

His wife was a secretary. He punched a clock, wore leather gloves, and moved steel for a living.

Theirs wasn’t a particularly unusual story. They worked from can to can’t. They sweat for dimes. They ate beans, rice, and white bread.

They had seven kids. Money was hard to hold on to with seven hungry tummies.

And, on the day she found him home from work early, sitting on the steps, she knew things were about to get worse.

His face was red and puffy. He couldn’t find the words. They’d fired him. His supervisor had delivered the news without warning.

His wife held him like a child.

“What’re we gonna do?” he said.

“We’re gonna believe,” she told him.

But he worried until he lost sleep. Then he worried harder.

The next day, he drove a dilapidated Ford through busy streets with the classifieds beneath his arm. His eldest son rode shotgun.

The boy watched through the windows while his father begged foremen for grunt work.

“Daddy,” said his son. “We gonna starve?”

“No, son,” he said. “But we might lose a little weight.”

After three weeks of job hunting he had, in fact, lost weight. They say he wouldn’t eat suppers.

The once strong steelman; an unemployed shell, skipping lunches and dinners to save money. Rejection takes a toll.

Christmas morning.

He woke to a tree with a family seated around it. There were newspaper-wrapped packages beneath the branches. Each gift had the word, “Dad” written on it.

His eldest made a picture book from construction paper and cardboard.

His daughter had given him a cigar.

His youngest gave him five quarters which he’d saved in a piggy bank.

A black-and-white family photo—colored with crayons. A sock-monkey doll, stuffed with newsprint. An aluminum ring. Shoelace bracelets. A few bottle caps.

They say he cried. They say the family dogpiled him. They say that for supper, his wife prepared a steak just for him. The rest ate beans.

Before the meal, he stood to say a blessing, but he was too overcome. So, she spoke for him. His solid wife, a woman who reminded everyone to keep believing.

She stood and told her family to bow heads.

“Lord,” she said. “Help us not to worry. And if it’s not too much trouble, give us a sign that you’re still there.”

“Amen.”

He offered to share cuts of steak with his children and wife. But they refused.

And it was after that very supper that one of the children pointed to the window and hollered, “LOOK! IT’S A SIGN!”

Snow.

In Alabama.

Only a few flakes, but soon the flakes turned to flurries. The flurries turned into piles. The piles turned into drifts. By New Year’s Eve, it was one of the largest snowstorms Alabama had ever known.

Still, after all these years the family hardly remembers the historic storm at all.

They only remember that their father found a job that same week. It was the same job he retired from at age seventy-one.

Don’t give up hope.

Not ever.

35 comments

  1. Jeanne Butler - November 23, 2018 6:38 am

    Beautiful. Love you Sean

    Reply
  2. Pamela McEachern - November 23, 2018 6:50 am

    Thank you for the eternal hope you give me and the beautiful story you shared today. I hope you and everyone had a Thanksgiving day to be remembered.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham 🙏

    Reply
  3. Lucretia Jones - November 23, 2018 8:05 am

    Yes. . .never, never, never, give up hope. Thank you, Sean, for the beautiful reminder! I am thankful for you! Lucretia

    Reply
  4. GaryD - November 23, 2018 10:40 am

    Wow, that’s a great sad, happy story. A wonderful ending for what sounds like a bunch of deserving folks. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Naomi - November 23, 2018 12:48 pm

    I’m from Birmingham, Alabama and I remember that winter very well, except that I was living in Illinois with my husband and 11-month old baby. He was born in Jan., 1963, right before a blizzard and the coldest winter on record at that time. I was taking my lunch break at work in Nov. when I found out that President Kennedy had been assassinated. That Christmas, although we were both working and going to college, we were pretty much dead broke. With the horrible weather and the death of our president, it seems like the whole world was in mourning.

    Reply
  6. Mike Guilday - November 23, 2018 1:15 pm

    Keep writing son, you remind all of us how blessed we are.

    Reply
  7. Jan - November 23, 2018 1:18 pm

    I remember that winter and that snowstorm. I rode on a sled down a snowy hill near my home for the only time in my 71 years. My grandfather died after a lengthy illness in his 80’s. There was so much snow that the hearse could not go up the hill in the cemetery. The pallbearers had to carry the casket up the hill for quite a distance in the snow. Thank you for your story and its important message – never give up hope – God is still there!

    Reply
  8. Shelton Armour - November 23, 2018 1:33 pm

    Always believe and hope for the best no matter what! And don’t forget to pray.

    Reply
  9. Steven P Bailey - November 23, 2018 1:35 pm

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  10. Nancy - November 23, 2018 1:48 pm

    I have been a subscriber now for about two weeks and have cried every day so far. You remind me of goodness. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. flkatmom - November 23, 2018 1:59 pm

    Reply
  12. Peggy Savage - November 23, 2018 1:59 pm

    Prayer and love….the two most powerful forces in the universe.

    Reply
  13. Toni Tucker Locke - November 23, 2018 2:32 pm

    “Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all . . . .” –Emily Dickinson
    Sean, You have written a column that is every bit as heartwarming as Miss Emily’s poem.

    Reply
  14. Carol Goodson - November 23, 2018 2:40 pm

    Like everything you write: so beautiful. Thank you very much for what you are doing in the world.

    Reply
  15. PM - November 23, 2018 2:40 pm

    Keeping our eyes on the Lord. It never fails to make us Over comers of darkness?

    Reply
  16. Jack Darnell - November 23, 2018 2:47 pm

    Yep, Never give up!!! Good one!

    Reply
  17. Steve Winfield - November 23, 2018 3:21 pm

    Amen. I was 3 but remember the snow just south of Bham. Dad went to work driving a truck for Standard Oil in the early 50s. He stayed 39 years. We were very lucky. Mom left the 3 of us in 66 so dad became both. Never remarried. Gone since 98. As a kid I really thought we were rich.

    Reply
    • Larry W. - November 23, 2018 6:44 pm

      Steve – it sounds to me that you were rich in the most important way and the only one that counts. Remember the Beatle’s song ‘Money can’t buy me love.’ Well, it is so very true. Your DAD must have been one very good man.

      Reply
  18. Bev deJarnette - November 23, 2018 3:31 pm

    Sean, you so richly bless us who read your column, and I’m sure you also bless those you encounter each day in life. Please continue to share your gentle and profound thoughts with all of us!! God uses many different voices to share His love and grace, I’m glad you’re one of them. ❤️🙏🏻

    Reply
  19. Kathy Wolfe - November 23, 2018 3:44 pm

    And I am old enough to remember that snow storm!

    Reply
  20. Edna B. - November 23, 2018 4:24 pm

    Such a beautiful story. Brings memories of my very first married Christmas. There was just enough money to buy a pack of ciggs and a can of soup for us to share and a tiny dress for our new baby. God is good though, and that baby is a grandmother today. I am blessed. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  21. Patricia Gibson - November 23, 2018 4:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  22. Clark - November 23, 2018 4:34 pm

    AMEN!

    Reply
  23. Sara - November 23, 2018 4:50 pm

    Suitable for framing. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  24. Helena Shirley - November 23, 2018 8:03 pm

    Thank you for your messages of hope!

    Reply
  25. Johnny - November 23, 2018 8:10 pm

    A beautiful story of love and hope!

    Reply
  26. Roy Parker - November 23, 2018 10:35 pm

    Thanks Sean. I was 8 in ’63 and remember that as one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. A beautiful story about a wonderful family. I had a rough day at work but your column put it in perspective very quickly. Thanks again, and God bless.

    Reply
  27. Kristine Wehrheim - November 23, 2018 10:58 pm

    Beautiful story!

    Reply
  28. Mary Ellen Hall - November 24, 2018 12:24 am

    BEAUTIFUL STORY, Sean!!! CERTAINLY TUGS @ MY HEART; especially the way things r, right now n this CRAZY WORLD!!!
    BELIEVE, ALWAYS BELIEVE!!!❤

    I PRAY you & your SWEET WIFE (& 2 BEAUTIFUL PUPS,) had a WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING!!!

    Reply
  29. William Hubbard - November 24, 2018 1:27 am

    All God’s children in one way or another have been in this man’s shoes, where everything looks hopeless- until you look in the right place, right under God’s sheltering arms.

    And, all God’s children said amen and amen!

    Reply
  30. Suzanne Ballard - November 24, 2018 4:46 am

    Your stories bring me to sweet tears every day. If only everyone could see the world the way you do!

    Reply
  31. S C Anderson - November 24, 2018 6:09 am

    Great story!

    Reply
  32. Sandi Watkins - November 24, 2018 11:52 am

    Thank you,I needed that.

    Reply
  33. Mary Lee Hardy - November 26, 2018 5:03 pm

    Lord, you are so good at what you do, please don’t ever stop. I needed that this morning.
    Thank you

    Reply
  34. rantsandravescom - November 28, 2018 4:32 pm

    Thank you. I needed to hear this. Friends lost their 18 year old to cancer just before Thanksgiving. I needed to be reminded of hope to get thru the sorrow with God’s help. There is still joy in each day if we look for it.

    Reply

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