Reeltown, Alabama—I don’t know how old he is, but he’s old enough to have white hair and use words like “rye-chonder” when he points.
He and his wife sit in rocking chairs at their vegetable stand. There are flats of tomatoes, peppers, jars of honey.
“‘Ch’all dune?” comes the call from his wife—a sweet woman with a kind face.
I inspect the man’s last batch of summer tomatoes. They look good. And it’s hard to find good fare on the side of the road anymore.
Factories have taken over the world.
There’s a clapboard house behind us. The roof is pure rust. The front porch is made of pure history.
“Grew up in that house,” he said. “My mama grew up in that house. Been farming this land since I’s a boy.”
His land nestles in the greenery of the foothills. He grew up using a mule to turn dirt fields. He burned up his childhood, tending cotton, cane, and peanuts. But he doesn’t call himself a farmer.
“I’m a country preacher,” he goes on. “‘Fore that, we was missionaries.”
Missionaries. But not overseas. To Native Americans. Primitive tribes in the United States which still cooked over fire and lived without electricity.
When they were younger, their missionary work was in Alaska.
“You take a Deep-South boy like me,” he says. “Put me in a poverty-stricken Eskimo tribe for ten years, that’s an education, boy.”
He’s not like many preachers. He has no doctrine to hammer, no book to thump. All he’s ever wanted to do is help people.
And he has a soft spot for Native Americans. He speaks about those he’s helped, with wet eyes. This man is made of Domino sugar.
“We just wanted people to know we loves’em,” he said. “Want my whole life to belong to people who just need to know someone loves’em.”
He’s shows me a wall of license plates. Rusted car tags represent the places his American missionary work has taken him. Arkansas, Missouri, Alaska, Texas, and a cluster of other tags.
His whole life is on that wall.
“I’m so lucky” he says. “Got to know all sorts’a God’s children. Didn’t make no money in my life, we’re kinda poor. That’s sorta why we started selling vegetables, you see.”
His wife interrupts. “Maybe we didn’t make money, Wallace. But tell him about the email.”
He says they got an email from a Native American man. The man asked if they were the same kindhearted visitors who used to bake cookies for his tribe’s Sunday school class in Alaska when he was a boy.
It made her eyes leak.
That boy is middle-aged today. He’s got a healthy family, and he’s doing well. He just wanted to thank a few missionaries who once showed him kindness.
“That ONE email,” she goes on. “Made our little lives seem worth it. Reckon life really is all about showing people you care.”
“Was nice meeting you,” the man said. “Hope you come back in the fall for some more vegetables. Or even just to sit’n talk. I kinda like you.”
Mister Wallace. I kind of like you, too.