PINSON, Ala. (BP)--Throughout his daughters' lives, Addie Price cautioned his girls never to trust anyone. "When me and your mama are gone, don't you let anybody take this house away from you," he instructed, referring to the family home on Walnut Street in Pinson, Ala. "I don't want you doing anything with this house.
“Don't you ever let anybody talk you into signing anything and don't let anybody come on this property."
Honoring their father's words, Verna and Louise Price obeyed his charge to the last syllable. "Doing anything" with the house was out of the question, so the women could only watch as their home slowly fell down around them.
Maintenance went undone for more than a quarter century, and by 1991 most of the roof had collapsed and many of the floors had rotted away. Trees sprouted through the gaping holes, and many passersby never dreamed that the old place was inhabited.
Then the blizzard hit. Having dealt with weather conditions for years by this point, the two women fortified the one corner where their bed took advantage of a section of remaining roof. "Blowing sleet would still wet us," Louise recalled, "but we found a piece of heavy plastic and stayed under it most of the time." The sisters prayed, read their Bible and cooked meager meals on a small grill, gathering sticks for their fire.
Food cost money and money was something the Prices didn't have -- the pair had no income during all those years. Even after Louise became eligible for Social Security, her fear of "signing anything" prevented her from collecting her rightful share.
"We just trusted the hand of Jesus," Verna said.
The family had at one time been members of First Baptist Church, Pinson, but had moved their membership to another church after a number of years. However, the ties to First Baptist kept the sisters on the hearts and minds of the congregation.
"Oftentimes I remember coming into the church during bad weather and someone saying, 'I just wonder how Verna and Louise are making it?' " said Jane Fisher, wife of First Baptist Pinson's pastor, Gary Fisher.
The congregation's compassion for the sisters resulted in a monthly check being mailed to their post office box. The amount varied, since the money was a free-will love offering collected each month, but usually was between $60 and $100. The ladies would not allow personal visits or agree to any help from individuals, but through First Baptist, the hand of Jesus met Verna and Louise's simple needs.
To those outside the situation it was easy to ask, "Why doesn't someone do more for those women?" But those who understood knew that handouts would never be accepted. Neighbors would sometimes place boxes of clothing on the Prices' doorstep only to find the items mysteriously returned before morning.
"We weren't trying to be ungrateful," Louise explained. "We just didn't need help from anybody but the Lord."
The sisters lost their father in 1962. Both women continued to live at home with their mother, and both continued at their jobs -- one as a legal secretary and one as insurance clerk. Up until the mother's health prevented her from getting out, the family continued to attend a local Baptist church.
But when their mother, Lyda Bell, suffered a stroke in the early '70s, the two daughters never considered any other option -- they quit their jobs and stayed home to become her full-time caregivers.
Not wanting their mother to be left out, the sisters stopped going out and began holding their own church services at home.
The Price sisters soon withdrew themselves from contact with the outside world. By the time their mother passed away in 1979, no one had so much as caught a glimpse of Verna outside her home. Louise still ventured out, mostly to the grocery store, but only when it was absolutely necessary. And aside from obligatory conversation with those who waited on her, Louise refused to speak to anyone. For 25 years the sisters lived in utter isolation.
But Veteran's Day of 1997 changed the sisters' lives.
After eating the last of their food, Louise hurried to the mailbox, realizing it was the day First Baptist's check always arrived. Yet when she got there, to her horror, it was empty. Seeing no alternative, Louise walked the three-quarters of a mile to the Fishers' home.
"You can't imagine how shocked I was to answer the door and see Louise standing there," Jane Fisher related. "Gary and I welcomed her in and explained that the check was delayed because of the national holiday." This personal contact set the stage for the turning point in the Price sisters' lives.
Soon, a social worker came to visit the Prices. Appalled at the ladies' living conditions, she instigated an investigation into their circumstances. The city of Pinson condemned their home, and a court hearing was scheduled. The judge insisted that someone take full responsibility for the Price sisters.
"We had prayed and prayed, and we knew that the Lord was going to take care of us," Louise stated emphatically. The Price sisters turned to Fisher and First Baptist.
"I had just returned from a missions trip to Romania," Fisher recounted. "So I told the judge, 'It would be awfully hypocritical to be willing to help people in a foreign country if we're unwilling to do it here at home. Our church will take responsibility for the sisters.' The judge shook his head and told me, 'No, you'll take responsibility for these ladies.'"
So without having an opportunity to consult his congregation, Fisher trusted in their faithfulness and Christlike spirit to back him.
A member of the congregation owned a rental house next door to the Prices' property and offered it free of charge. A care group from the church helped settle Verna and Louise into the little house, but the church wanted a more permanent solution to the Price sisters' problem. "We'd been talking about building a mission house," Fisher said. "Once we convinced Verna and Louise to allow us to help them, they became our mission."
With volunteer labor and church funds, the old home place has been cleared from the property and a new house is under construction. The sisters watched from next door as the bulldozers shoved their home's remains toward the waiting dump trucks. "We had an absolute peace about the whole thing," Verna declared. "It didn't bother us one bit seeing it torn down."
The sisters have since moved their membership back to First Baptist and are active members. A care group member drives the ladies to and from church every Sunday.
The sisters are pleased, and they waste no time in crediting the Source of their blessings.
"I believe it's nothing but the power of God and the love of Jesus," Louise firmly declared.
Louise is now receiving her Social Security benefits and Verna, who recently celebrated her 62nd birthday, will soon begin receiving her own. Asked what she thought of their beautiful new home, Verna didn't hesitate to answer.
"Oh, it's nice, it really is. But the one I really look forward to is my home in heaven."