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.
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.”
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!”
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.
Sharon Williams - November 27, 2017 2:16 pm
Connie - November 27, 2017 2:17 pm
I was the oldest of 8 kids. I spent more Christmases than I can count with nothing under the tree except stockings filled with fruit and nuts from the church up the road, which is also where Christmas dinner came from. Poverty is hard. It forges people of steel. Or it can break you down to nothing. Thank you for the reminder that people can and do overcome. God bless.
Leia Lona - November 27, 2017 2:35 pm
Never, ever give up.
Helene Mewborn - November 27, 2017 2:47 pm
Sean, I don’t know how you come up with so many touching, uplifting stories, but I appreciate them!
God bless you.
Jackie Darnell - November 27, 2017 2:59 pm
We have never been in such dire straits. What a beautiful site. I do know the feeling of rejection, having been out of work once for 60+ days in 1956-57, but my wife had a job. I returned to the Military and made a career of it.
This is a beautiful story, I forget about the steel in the Birmingham Area. I remember the huge Iron man. I think I was about 8 yrs old.
Marty from Alabama - November 27, 2017 3:03 pm
As long as this earth moves around the sun, our Maker and Creator is going to rule. And He provides.
Thank you, Sean.
Toni Tucker Locke - November 27, 2017 3:06 pm
I have never known real hunger, but I know some who have. Thank you for this moving story of faith.
Cheryl Ahlquist - November 27, 2017 3:28 pm
This post was just forwarded to me. Thanks for this beautiful Christmas story and the reminder of God’s faithfulness.
Pamela McEachern - November 27, 2017 3:42 pm
You just know what to write and I am grateful for you and your stories. I remember that snow, my best friend’s birthday was New Year’s Eve and all of us kids got to play in the snow all evening and a sleep over later! Best birthday party I’ve ever been to in my life. I Believe ! Peace and Love from Birmingham
Betsy Brown - November 27, 2017 3:59 pm
Day by day the tears come. Sometimes joyful and sometimes sad, but always there because life is beautiful, especially in they eyes of Sean Dietrich. Thank you for sharing the beauty in your eyes with all of us. .
Barbara J Schweck - November 27, 2017 4:07 pm
Thank you for this beautiful, beautiful story! God Bless all of those in such dire circumstances-Amen!
Pat - November 27, 2017 4:18 pm
I almost didn’t make it to the end without a TOTAL meltdown. Wonderful story! The signs are always there, we just have to open our eyes as the child did. And the angels walk among us!
ponder304 - November 27, 2017 4:24 pm
Your gift of words is a song to many hearts! Thank you!
Jack Quanstrum - November 27, 2017 4:29 pm
NovaLee - November 27, 2017 5:45 pm
Sometimes hope is so hard to find…but it’s still there?
jones - November 27, 2017 6:29 pm
Sean, you have a gift with words and stories….thank you for sharing.
Virginia - November 27, 2017 6:44 pm
I was a single mom with 2 young daughters. For Christmas I’d wrap penny gum & candy in separate wrappings so it seemed like allot under the tree. Their presents were their new or almost new school clothes that didn’t have holes in then or have outgrown. Had some dollar clearance wrapping paper from the year before that I wrapped pictures hung on the wall so it was a bit more festive (before the stores started doing it) still.. we had love… lots of rolling on the floor together. Chasing each other outside. In spite of living hand to mouth my 2 beautiful daughters have grown into incredible women that I am so proud of & proud to be their mom. Yes… tenacity & God got us through.
Susan Hammett Poole - November 27, 2017 7:03 pm
My goodness gracious, do you ever more know how to measure out the right words to tell a story so succintly! My vision clouded up while reading this story of hope today. GOD bless you, Sean, for sharing the gift HE gave you with us, your readers.
Lynda - November 27, 2017 7:08 pm
I hope that story is true – but if it isn’t, it is still beautiful. I hope it inspires a desperate person to keep going if only on faith.
Elaine Karrh - November 27, 2017 7:10 pm
Melissa Nelson - November 27, 2017 8:05 pm
it is the first Sunday of Advent this coming Sunday and the theme word is Hope. Thanks for the story have decided to entitle the Message “Don’t Give Up Hope”
pearlie2Es - November 27, 2017 9:25 pm
This really warmed my heart
Wendy - November 27, 2017 10:25 pm
I was reminded of this quote by Alexander Pope…”Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is but always to be blest.”
Thank you, Sean, for reminding us to stay hopeful whatever our circumstances.
Lucretia - November 28, 2017 12:17 am
Tears of joy in the sharing of hope. Christmas celebrates the Birth of Mankind’s Hope, Jesus Christ. Thank you, Sean.
Jo Brooks - November 28, 2017 11:30 pm
What a wonderful story of Christmas hope and faith. Thank you.
K C Royall III - November 29, 2017 5:55 pm
If you Believe in GOD and JESUS CHRIST as your LORD and SAVIOR,
you shall Believe in yourself as a Child of GOD” !!! Bonding of your
family should follow with Love !!!
Marian Russell Hawkins - November 29, 2017 3:11 pm
As always it was perfect. Thank you.
Dick mcnider - December 2, 2017 2:49 am
I remember the snow storm of 1963. It snowed close to 10 inches in parts of South Alabama and Mississippi. Great story.
Jenni - December 5, 2017 3:37 am
Wow! Just when I think you could not out do yourself- you do… that was awesome and as a child that spent many Christmas’s in North Alabama and poor- snow just means more. My father’s last Christmas was magical- I was 15 – we read the Christmas story from the Bible as tradition- my turn! My grandmother (daddy’s momma) spent the night with us- (1991) and my daddy put blankets over the windows and when we woke up on Christmas morning-he took down the blankets- it was winter wonderland ! Do not have words that express how beautiful that was… but I know that was my best Christmas ever!
Michelle - December 17, 2017 10:58 am
Just what I needed this morning, thank you.
Terri Brown - December 17, 2017 1:03 pm
Oh my! Give a girl a Kleenex alert! What a wonderfully written and moving story of faith. You are very talented.
Toby - December 18, 2017 6:06 pm
There was the year my husband got the pink slip just before Christmas… I had grown up in poverty, and this scared me. We were new to faith, but trusted the best we could. We made homemade gifts and borrowed an artificial tree to decorate with handmade ornaments. There were dinners of rice and beans or pasta… He found a job at the docks, skinning fish, and was given plenty to feed his young family. I’ll never forget how God provided and how thankful we were!
Katy - January 12, 2018 10:37 pm
Thank you, Sean. I really needed this.