The Housewarming

by Sue Phelan
Danville, California, USA

The Housewarming

In 1975, when I was 20 years old, my father and I moved from Washington State to California. We settled in Alameda and rented an apartment together.

The San Francisco Bay Area was a like an entirely different planet. I was so excited to be here, and the whole thing was just one big adventure. I didn’t know anyone except my dad and a handful of his relatives that I wasn’t well acquainted with.

My big adventure came to an abrupt halt one day three months after we arrived. I was out one day from early morning until early evening. When I got home, there was a “For Rent” sign in the window, the apartment was empty, and the locks had been changed. My father was gone. Everything I owned was out on the front lawn and strangers were picking through my things like an unattended garage sale. My bedroom furniture and clothing were all over the lawn.

I had no job, very little money, and no place to live. My father had always been a very difficult, harsh man, but this was the worst thing he had ever done. This was the very lowest point in my life. My faith in human kindness was destroyed and I swore I would never trust anyone again.

In desperation, I called my father’s nephew, my cousin Rick, who lived nearby. He and his stepfather drove over immediately with a truck and hauled away my belongings. The next day I rented an apartment that was in the worst part of town and tiny, but at least I had a roof over my head!

Unfortunately, aside from bedroom furniture and some clothes, I had nothing. Rick immediately planned a housewarming party and started inviting his friends. I’d been to housewarming parties before, but I was unprepared for what happened next. Rick’s friends, total strangers to me, brought carloads of presents.

Everything was used and none of it was wrapped, but everything was beautiful. I was so overwhelmed by their generosity and kindness! They brought a dining room table and chairs, a television, pots, pan, dishes, bowls, a coffee maker, silverware, towels, sheets, bathroom items, and far too many other things to mention here. They came with open hearts and open arms. I got as many hugs that night as I got presents. We told stories and laughed all night.

I had no idea how to pay them back. They told me to forget about them and simply pass the favor on to someone else. I never saw most of those people again, but I’ve never forgotten them. I always look for opportunities to pass their kindness along to someone else in need. It may sound corny, but they gave me back my faith in human kindness that night — something you don’t usually get at a housewarming party.

Originally published as HeroicStories #96 on Dec 11, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

9 thoughts on “The Housewarming”

  1. Our neighbor across the street came home one afternoon and found a sheriff’s sale sign in front of his house. Mom and I got the neighbors together and raised some money to help pay off what he owed (his wife co-signed on a note taken out by her irresponsible sister). With what he could raise on his own, it saved the day.

    Like Sue, we told him to forget paying it back but to pass it on when he got back on his feet and that we, ourselves, had been in pretty much the same position when he was a little boy down the street and the neighbors bailed us out. It had been years later, but we finally found a way to “pay it back.”

    • Wow, lucky neighbor to have you there in the community to help repay the debt. Amazing work to rally the caring folks to help donate funds. And how wonderful to have an opportunity to give to someone willing to receive.

  2. Heartwarming story of the caring help given by people who do not even know the person they are helping. Something to keep in mind ~ A good example of ‘pay it forward’.

  3. Let’s hear it for cousins! Mine are as close to me as siblings, without all the baggage of having lived with each other. I know that my cousins would be there for me in a hot minute, if something bad were to happen and I needed them. And vice versa.

  4. Having people show up in your life to restore your trust in humanity overnight…is a miracle in itself. In addition, the gifts of household items was a bonus on top of that.

    I couldn’t even imagine how terrifying it would be to go through the overnight loss of a parent and being tossed out on the street. I’m grateful you’re such an open hearted and forgiving person in our world. Happy New Year blessings to everyone.

  5. I was stationed in Alameda about the time this story was posted. The people my daughters went to high school with really were like the people that brought all the house warming gifts to Sue.

  6. It certainly does not sound corny to say they gave you back your faith in human kindness that night. It is an amazing story that perfectly displays what good things humans are capable of. That’s why this site is so great. The world needs to focus on stories like these. A smile brings a smile from those who see it.

  7. It is always heart warming when help comes from the most unexpected quarter.God is at work in dispensing his general grace to all.He sends his rains and sun even on the most wicked


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