Two years ago. Reeltown, Alabama. I don’t know how old the man running the vegetable stand 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. 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. Homegrown summer tomatoes are almost a myth.
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 fires 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 to sell vegetables.
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…