JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. - In a season known for giving, you'd think December would be hard for this town, after everything they've lost. “It’s a bittersweet feeling," said Carol Ellsworth, a resident of Rosalie.
It will be a long time before anything stands in the footprint of the Rosalie Plaza Grocery. The owner is still talking things over with his insurance company before he can start rebuilding after last month's tornado. Among the cinder blocks and trees twisted by a powerful tornado, stands a simple Christmas tree with a powerful premise.
“Many of people have lost an awful lot,"said Ellsworth. "Putting the tornado kinda behind us."
The idea came from Tommie Darwin. He decided the town needed a reason to smile, so he went to Thornhill Tree farm. It was also greatly damaged by the tornado, but instead of taking the much-needed profit, Thornhill donated the Douglas Fir and a homemade stand.
"We’re asking people of the community and surrounding areas to place a Christmas ornament," said Ellsworth.
The rules are simple: there are none. "Anything that would bring hope and a spirit of Christmas to the community of Rosalie," she explained.
One by one, the families stepped where produce aisles once stood, and placed their ornaments. Some picked decorations with a symbolic meaning, like little Andy's heart. "So that way people can see someone loved this place very much," said Andy Ball.
11-year-old Gabriel brought his favorite ornament, a penguin. "It makes everybody feels better like there’s hope in the future, like they can rebuild," said Gabriel Borter.
The tree, a reminder of what the Nativity story tells us - the divine child bringing hope to a broken world, and a bright star telling of his arrival.
"Just people trying to get their lives back together," said Ellsworth. "The community needs this Christmas tree."
No, the branches don't have literal lights, those will be added Tuesday, but the tree has brought more love and joy, than any gift that could be found underneath.
"I think it represents the goodness and hope that this community will make it," said Gabriel.
The owner of the grocery store said a local family is currently making three ornaments that will feature the names of the three people killed by last month's tornado.