A Family's Christmas Angel Miracle

A beloved glass angel was lost in Hurricane Katrina. But then they stepped into a local secondhand store.

- Posted on Dec 24, 2019

A close-up photo of Tullia Hamilton smiling in her home.

Christmas was coming, and while browsing a local secondhand store with my sister, Shelia, I thought about everything my family had to be grateful for in 2006. We had to stay positive.

We wouldn’t be in New Orleans this year. Our old neighborhood was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Luckily I had room in my home in St. Louis to take them all in.

My family had lived in New Orleans for generations, including the last 50 years in the Lower Ninth Ward. I hadn’t lived in the city since 1969, but I visited often and Christmas was still defined in my mind by the city’s traditions. On December 25 we made the rounds to our friends’ houses, enjoying a drink, tasting their gumbo, and feasting on mirliton, sweet potatoes and red velvet cake.

“Keep an eye out for little things we can use as stocking stuffers,” Shelia said, scanning an upper shelf. “This move has been so hard for Mama, Aunt Gladys and Aunt Ellen. It would be nice to have a little bit more of home for Christmas.”

We do have the angel, I thought.

Some of us had made a trip back to the house in New Orleans to see what we could salvage. The devastation was beyond belief. “I’ve lived in that neighborhood all my life,” my brother, Ro, remarked when we returned. “But I couldn’t even tell where I was. All the landmarks were gone.”

Family mementos were missing too. Decades’ worth of photos, clothing, furniture—most of it gone. Except for the few items we boxed up and brought back to St. Louis. When we unpacked the boxes my mom exclaimed with delight, “You found the Christmas angels!” She picked up a transparent glass candleholder in the shape of an angel. It was one of a pair, a gift to my mother from her sister-in-law. The pair had stood on our Christmas dinner table every year since the 1980s.

“Where’s the other one?” I said.

Ro shook his head. “Lost forever.”

That single angel would have a place of honor on our holiday table this year, but there would be something sad about seeing her all alone. It was as if, just like us, she’d lost a part of herself. I tried to concentrate on all the angels we’d had since the storm. People donated clothes, toiletries and money. Another friend even found a weekly bingo game in St. Louis to make my aunts feel more at home. Our family would be together this Christmas. God, help me focus on that instead of what we’ve lost, I thought. Maybe that pair of candleholders wouldn’t be there on the table, but one angel was a blessing enough.

Shelia and I brought our purchases to the register. I had just taken out my wallet to pay when she grabbed my arm. “Look!” she said. “Is that what I think it is?”

I peered into the glass case. Could it be? Yes! Two glass angels—our angels, a pair.

The cashier seemed a little confused by our excitement. There was nothing special about the candleholders that she could see. But for us, they were a small miracle. When my family sat down to Christmas dinner that year, our table had never felt so abundant. Once there were two angels, then one, and now three! Proof that with God, nothing good was ever lost forever.

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