Dan Lovette became an usher at the Baptist church on Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1961. He stood at the door shaking hands, passing out bulletins. He got a lot of funny looks because nobody knew Dan.
Weeks earlier, Pastor Lovette had introduced Dan as his older brother. Dan was a tall man with a soft voice, and rough skin. He wore a brown suit that was too small. He hardly spoke to parishioners.
He sat on the front row during sermons. After service, he smoked cigarettes behind the church. People asked the pastor questions about Dan, but the preacher was quiet when it came to his older brother.
Over the years, folks saw a lot of Dan Lovette. He could be seen pushing a mower, changing the church sign, painting the clapboards, passing out bulletins on Sundays, or cleaning the sanctuary on Monday afternoons.
Dan lived in a back room of the church, behind the choir loft. His earthly belongings amounted to one cot, a hot plate, a coffee pot, a transistor radio, a shaving kit, and one brown suit.
Nobody can forget the Sunday that the pastor announced he would be baptizing Dan after service, this surprised people. Most fundamentalists thought it was quite strange, scandalous even, that the pastor’s own brother had never been baptized.
Even so, sixty-four church members stood near the creek, watching the tall man wade into shallow water behind his younger brother, the preacher. It was a simple ordeal. Down Dan went; up he came. Applause. Bring on the banana pudding.
But life was not all pudding and baptisms. In 1974, tragedy hit the church. The pastor was in a car accident on his way home from Montgomery, doctors thought he’d had a stroke while driving.
For weeks, Dan sat beside his brother’s hospital bed without sleep or food. He lived in a hospital room.
And on the next Sunday, Dan Lovette took the pulpit with tired eyes. It was a hushed room. It was the first time any members of the church ever heard more than a few sentences from old Dan.
“Most of you know me as Dan Lovette,” he began. “But that ain’t my name. Real name’s Springfield. Daniel Springfield…”
It was so quiet you could hear gumdrop.
Dan went on to tell the story about how in 1961, Pastor Lovette had been walking into a department store when he saw Dan standing outside rattling a tin cup. Dan was homeless, and looking for handouts—or a bottle to cure his shakes.
Pastor Lovette treated Dan to supper. Then the pastor carried Dan home to meet his wife and kids. The preacher helped Dan, sat with him through withdrawals, he took Dan to sobriety meetings, he bought Dan a brown suit for Sundays.
Dan started to feel bad about all his charity, he came close to leaving because of his own shame.
“But the preacher just told me one night, ‘You can’t leave us, Dan. Why, we’re brothers.”
Dan didn’t know what to say. He had never been anyone’s brother before—he’d never been anyone’s anything before. All he’d ever been was hard up. But not anymore. Dan got rid of his old name, his old habits, and his old opinion of himself.
And if I had room to tell you the rest of the story, I would. But there’s no need. You already have the important parts.
What I will tell you is this: if you’re ever driving a lonesome two-lane highway in the middle-of-nowhere, Alabama, and you see a dilapidated, clapboard meeting house, consider pulling over.
Then go to the rear of the nondescript cemetery. A few graves have flowers. Most don’t. But you will find a marker for Pastor Lovette, and one for his wife. And a third headstone for an old man who died sober, with his adopted family surrounding his bedside.
The stone reads: “My Big Brother Dan.”