The way it happened was like something that would happen in a Hallmark movie. Wait a minute. It was a Hallmark movie that started it all.
Because Tink works on Hallmark projects — he was one of the writers and executive producers on a Hallmark series as well as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation called “Love Locks” — we were surprised to learn that a Hallmark Christmas movie called “Christmas In Homestead” was filming in our backyard in Dahlonega last year. (Tink has yet to be this lucky but we are hoping. Most of his Hallmark projects shoot in Canada.)
Anyway, the people of the picturesque town of Dahlonega were all abuzz with excitement as the set designers decorated the town with lights, trees, wreaths and snow in late October and November. In addition to the cast, 300 locals were hired as extras.
Frank Zimmerman was leaving his volunteer job at Dahlonega United Methodist Church when he was spotted by one of the people decorating in front of the church. Frank is 58 years old and has not shaved his beard since he was 23. He is now fully gray and has a twinkle in his eyes. He bears a strong resemblance to St. Nick himself.
There, in front of the pretty brick church with the white clapboard steeple, Frank was discovered by a set designer decorating trees with fake snow.
“Would you be interested in playing Santa Claus for a Hallmark movie?” the guy asked.
“I figured that since it was Hallmark, it would be a good, clean movie so I said, ‘yes,’” said Frank, who had never in his life played Santa Claus. For 30 seconds of film, dressed in a Santa suit someone gave him, Frank Zimmerman became Santa. But it isn’t the secular spirit of the holiday that Frank likes to share, it’s the Holy Spirit of the season that became fully evident in Frank’s “star discovery.”
Sadly, Frank’s 32-year-old daughter died unexpectedly shortly after his 30-second movie debut had been filmed. The Zimmerman family, as you can imagine, was devastated but, for Frank, it was the Hallmark job that got him through the roughest Christmas of his life.
“Because I was in the movie, I got booked up with appearances and doing a play as Santa. I agreed to these before my daughter died. I’m a man of my word so I honored those commitments even though I didn’t feel like it,” Frank explained in a humble voice.
“I pulled myself up by the bootstraps so I could keep going. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me be joyful and that’s exactly what He did. It turned out to be a gift to me because it got me through that time.”
Then and during the filming of the movie, Frank discovered a happiness in playing Santa.
“I had so much fun dressed as Santa Claus, walking through town and being sociable. It was an amazing feeling,” he said.
When Frank starred as Santa Claus, he didn’t know that the holiday season would have such an abrupt turn toward sorrow. But, obviously, the child born in that Bethlehem stable did because He was preparing the way to lift up Frank during the darkest time of his life.
“Because of the Hallmark movie, I played Santa and that got me through,” he said.
“Isn’t it amazing how the Holy Spirit knows what we need before we know what we need?” I asked.
“Yes, it is,” he responded. “It definitely is.”
It’s the kind of ending that we love to expect from a Hallmark movie. To all of you, my readers, I wish that you’ll have the sweetest kind of Hallmark Christmas as we celebrate the birth of that loving child in Bethlehem. The one who will always know what we need before we need it.
Just ask Frank Zimmerman.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.