Country Preacher

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.

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.”

I 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.”

Reckon so.

“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.

22 comments

  1. Kathleen Dempsey - July 31, 2017 1:13 pm

    Gotta love vegetables and Missionary work / ” sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven .”
    Thank you .

    Reply
  2. Juanita Ruth One - July 31, 2017 1:23 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for starting my every day with a smile in my heart. Your writing is truly a blessing to us readers!

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - July 31, 2017 1:43 pm

    I like you all. Weepy glees here..

    Reply
  4. Nancy Payne - July 31, 2017 1:44 pm

    Another good one…thank you!

    Reply
  5. Sharon - July 31, 2017 2:00 pm

    What a powerful way to show the love of Christ. They truly are the embodiment of the Great Commission.

    Reply
  6. Sam Hunneman - July 31, 2017 2:51 pm

    “…and the greatest of these is love.”
    Nice to run into folks who walk that walk, and yeah, that email made my eyes leak a bit, too.
    Thanks, Sean, for walking the walk, too.

    Reply
  7. Pat - July 31, 2017 3:16 pm

    Words just escape so this wetness running down my cheeks shall speak for my words.

    Reply
  8. Susan in Georgia - July 31, 2017 3:22 pm

    After reading your wonderful story this morning, Sean, I do believe there’s a road trip in my near future. Fifty years ago I was a DFACS caseworker out of Dadeville, AL and Reeltown was part of the territory I covered. I need to make my way back over there and find Wallace & his wife and their vegetable stand. Yep, my mouth is watering for summer tomatoes, and my heart is longing to meet up with that kind missionary couple.

    Reply
  9. paula jones - July 31, 2017 3:25 pm

    Amen, and amen.

    Reply
  10. Catherine - July 31, 2017 3:32 pm

    What the world needs now…is love and more Wallace’s, his wife, missionaries and more Sean’s to remind us. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Paulette Dugan - July 31, 2017 3:49 pm

    And that is what the love of Christ is all about – love unconditionally. Thank you for your essays.

    Reply
  12. Wendy - July 31, 2017 4:06 pm

    More beautiful words from Sean this morning.

    I apologize for my question to be off topic. But why are the times of my comments incorrect? Last night (due to my insomnia) the comment showed 6:25 a.m. when it was actually 1:30 a.m.. Does anyone know how I can rectify this?

    Thank you again, Sean, for your inspirational writings!

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - July 31, 2017 4:30 pm

      My times are off too! I wondered the same!! I do not know how to fix it.

      Then I decided….Sean’s post are wonderful… and timeless!!

      Reply
  13. Carolyn - July 31, 2017 5:03 pm

    Sean, I do hope you’re planning a Fall trip back to Mr. Wallace’s vegetable stand.

    Reply
  14. Bill King - July 31, 2017 8:14 pm

    I know about Reeltown, and about missions, and about good tomatoes! That was a good one Sean.

    Reply
  15. Jack Quanstrum - July 31, 2017 10:15 pm

    Precious story!

    Reply
  16. Michael Saunders - July 31, 2017 11:08 pm

    Good story about good people.

    Reply
  17. Katy Maddox - August 1, 2017 1:27 am

    Please tell me how to find this couple, Sean – I need to meet them. Katy

    Reply
  18. Margaret - August 1, 2017 4:51 pm

    Reeltown is my hometown. Wallace and my daddy have been close friends since childhood. I have known this couple since before I can remember. This beautifully written piece only skims the surface of what wonder people they are.

    Reply
  19. Michael Hawke - August 2, 2017 8:06 pm

    I forwarded this to a friend from Mobile who lives in Independence, MO. I asked if he reads your column. He answered, “I do now.”

    Reply
  20. Lucretia - August 3, 2017 2:16 am

    . . .beautiful. . .

    Reply
  21. Darlene Rhodus - August 5, 2017 1:52 pm

    Wallace, you and your missus are not poor at all. You are rich in love. ..love for others and love for Christ. Good Bless You!

    Reply

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