I tell the story of Dwight and Debra every Christmas Eve.
I met them five years ago when I was driving back from Florida. They were walking along the side of the road with the sign that said “Trying to get home for Christmas.”
I had just started Our Southern Souls and had never talked with the people on roadways holding the handmade cardboard signs. I always looked away, pretending I didn’t see them. But this time the voice told me to stop and talk with them.
They were heading to Tennessee. They had been walking for nine days and were never going to make it at the pace they were going. We prayed, promised not to kill each other. Then I gave them a ride to the Greyhound bus station in Pensacola and my husband bought their bus tickets online. Before they boarded the bus, Debra gave me her cardboard sign and said “Merry Christmas.” She texted me a thank you note when they got to Tennessee and that is the last I heard from them.
I still have the sign.
“We have been walking for nine days and have walked over 100 miles so far. We are trying to get to Tennessee to see my niece. I haven’t seen her in 11 years and I made her a promise on the phone that I would get there. We have been homeless for a year and don’t have a car, so we are walking. We started out with $365 and everything we own is in this buggy.
I was working for a mechanic and we were sleeping in the back of a car and that was working out fine until the pay got less and less and we realized we couldn’t live like that any more. It is expensive to live in Florida. I have family in Tennessee and I want to live in the mountains and find more work. There is nothing I can’t do. I am a mechanic and can do roofing, drywall and painting.
It’s not as easy as you would think to get a ride. People read the sign and drive by, some shake their heads at us. Some people pull over, then take off when we get to the car. I have been hit with diapers as a car drove by. People have thrown out candy wrappers and chip bags at us. One man said ‘You want this money?’ and tore it up in front of us. Other people have been kind and give us rides and buy us food. She has diabetes and walking is hard on her. I make sure she eats first and I have already bought her three pairs of shoes at Dollar Generals because I have to take care of her and her feet. We have been walking for four hours this morning and were praying for a ride when you pulled up.”
(We got them on a Greyhound bus and they will be in Tennessee this morning).