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 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 missionaries who used to bake cookies for his tribe’s Sunday school class in Alaska when he was a boy.
It made her eyes leak. His too.
That boy is middle-aged today. He’s got a healthy family, and he’s doing well. He just wanted to thank a few people 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 about’em.”
I hug their necks, then I drive away, eating tomatoes all the way across Alabama.
That was many summers ago. I made it back to Reeltown to see Mister Wallace not long thereafter. The vegetable stand was closed down. He was in a wheelchair and didn’t have use of his limbs. ALS had taken its cruel toll on his body. Doctors said it wouldn’t be long.
When I hugged his neck I cried a little. I didn’t mean to, but it’s hard to watch a good man get beat.
He whispered something in my ear.
“Don’t feel bad for me, Sean,” he said. “After I’m gone, I’ll be up yonder, with you know who.”
And not much later, on one very special Easter Sunday morning, a modest country preacher walked through abalone gates and shook You-Know-Who’s hand.
And they’re about to have some fine tomatoes in Beulah Land.
We miss you, Mister Wallace.
Barbara - September 25, 2021 10:00 am
You sure have a way of finding sweet people and then gift us by sharing the story. Bless you.
Susan - September 25, 2021 10:52 am
Thank God for sweet people in this world. Thank you, Sean, for telling us about this one.
Joan Moore - September 25, 2021 11:09 am
Praise God for that couple and their hearts for loving people, reminds me of another man and his wife who are also full of love…
Reeltown – Virginia Belle - September 25, 2021 11:58 am
[…] Reeltown […]
Joe Fowler - September 25, 2021 11:58 am
Mister Wallace is one of your great treasures. Thanks for sharing.
bud mclaughlin - September 25, 2021 12:14 pm
Thank you for this, Sean. I’ve lived in Alabama since I started school at Auburn in 1973 (graduated in journalism in ’78). I too have met a couple of Mr. and Mrs. Wallaces on my journeys. This was a wonderful piece.
Al Cato - September 25, 2021 12:17 pm
You remind us and confirm it in your stories that good people abound in our great country. They love on their neighbors as well as strangers because it’s the right thing to do and the Bible confirms it. Your voice is one we need to hear each day in your blogs. You make a difference!!!
Debbie g - September 25, 2021 12:21 pm
Looking forward to meeting mr and mrs Wallace !!! What treasures. And happy tracks left for us to follow Love to all thank you Sean
Bob E - September 25, 2021 12:34 pm
There are more good folks than not-so-good (nsg) folks. You just don’t hear about the ‘goods’ as you do about the nsgs – so sad.
Sean, thank you for writing about the good folks who make a positive difference in many lives (lots of them nsgs).
God will reward those who help, aid and assist any of the folks.
P.S. I love Southern Ontario tomatoes. Oh my!
Dana Blackwood - September 25, 2021 12:51 pm
“And we have these treasures in earthen vessels…”
Paul McCutchen - September 25, 2021 1:24 pm
Thanks Sean, it is good to read an “oldie but goodie” and you were right about the home grown tomatoes being hard to find. The people we used to go to have quit or passed away leaving me to grow my own. For some reason theirs were always bigger and better.
Deanna - September 25, 2021 1:33 pm
I can’t wait to get to Beulah Land, find Mr.Wallace, and have some fine, homegrown tomatoes
Steve from Wyoming - September 25, 2021 1:43 pm
I turned 73 on September 21st . 73, that means I some be able to read Sean of the south every morning the rest of life . You are the sunrise of my day. Mister Wallace has nothing over you. BE SWEET
Carolyn D. - September 25, 2021 8:38 pm
I could almost feel that man’s hand on my shoulder in that restaurant, paying that guy’s tab.
Cathy - September 25, 2021 1:53 pm
These sweet people make me want to move to the country where life is simple and kindness still abounds. This world needs more people like Mr Wallace and more like you to write about him. You are the bomb❤️🙏🏻
Nancy Crews - September 25, 2021 1:54 pm
❤your writing. We need a lot more Mr. and Mrs. here on this earth.
Karen Snyder - September 25, 2021 2:01 pm
Your sweet stories about the good things and the good people are blessed relief from the daily din. ❤️
David Jones - September 25, 2021 2:06 pm
I never met the man, but I miss him
Charlotte Lea - September 25, 2021 2:29 pm
Great column Sean. Let me tell you about my missionary nurse, my Mama. After she reared 5 children, lost her husband (my Papa), and received her bachelors degree in nursing, she went to Oxford University and studied hospice care. Then she volunteered to go to Ethiopia Africa for a year (on her own dime $). When she came back to Mississippi, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board hired her to go back to Africa. She was a missionary nurse for several years in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Kenya. She survived malaria, rebel wars and even being captured by enemy forces. When captured, she witnessed her faith to a few men that night and when all were asleep, one of the men allowed her to escape. She would sew clothes for orphans on a battery operated sewing machine (when she wasn’t nursing). There were over 1000 orphans camped out beyond the feeding and medical camp. One Easter she passed out bubble gum to all the orphans and taught them to blow bubbles…they had never seen bubble gum before. She tried to adopt 2 orphans, but communist government wouldn’t allow it. She saved those 2 boys from rebels when they took over the camp. How? She buried them under dirt in her makeshift flower bed and gave them hoses to breathe through until rebels left. We still wonder what fate those 2 boys faced when Mama came home for good. She came home and continued nursing until Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board contacted her again. They wanted her to share her story to church congregations in Mississippi. She accepted and drove all over Mississippi, visiting churchs with her story until retiring at 82. She wrote a book about her 1st year in Africa (never published) and have journals about the following years. She testified that the Lord told her at age 14 that she’d be a missionary. She was physically healthy, but dimentia took over. Even though she had lost her mind, she still talked about Africa and the 2 boys she left behind. She passed away 2 years ago at 89. Amazing woman…my Mama.
Thank you for the column about missionaries.
Lulu - September 25, 2021 3:42 pm
Sean, I adore this piece. My husband was in the army, 32 years. He was a water transportation specialist. We lived in Greece, Holland, Germany and Ethiopia.. Plus some of the USA. Then he served as Director of a school/hospital for special needs children with spinabifeda and cerebral palsy. When he retired we wanted to work with older people but at the age of 72 we moved to Changsha and Qingdao China. We needed to have jobs to live there so we were hired to teach conversational English at a Chinese University. My husband had his Master’s Degree and I did not go to college. You were required to have a degree and the director told me I’d teach anyhow. We argued but he won! We each taught 300 students per week. In our off time we had some of them in our apartment to teach them of Our Father’s love and works. We knew one Christian when we arrived…when we left His word was established and some of thos people are spreading His works and words. We allowed Him to be our driver and it so enriched and changed our lived. You can do anything when you give Him your keys and let Him do the driving for you! Thank you for this beautiful piece. PPTG (Point People To God) Hugs ‘n Love to you, Jamie and the dogs…peace and joy be yours!
Pecos Kate - September 25, 2021 9:50 pm
Charlotte, that was a beautiful tribute to your Mama and I am amazed at her accomplishments!
Debbie g - September 26, 2021 11:54 am
Charlotte thanks for sharing another life well lived What a beautiful lady. And God said welcome home my good and faithful servant Love ❤️ ❤️❤️
Stacey Wallace - September 25, 2021 3:10 pm
God bless you, Sean. I’m from Alexander City, Alabama, about 20 minutes from Reeltown. . I sure wish I could have met Mr. Wallace and his wife.
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 25, 2021 3:32 pm
A life well lived! Thank you for telling this story.
Gayle Wilson - September 25, 2021 3:39 pm
Sean, you bring beauty even to stories about hard scratched lives and dying. God bless you and Jamie.
Susan from Wausau - September 25, 2021 4:33 pm
You break my heart and put it back together again. This is why we’re here: to love each other, to help each other. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful people with us.
Brian E Hill - September 25, 2021 5:06 pm
When I started camping at the races at Talladega in the early ’90’s, there was a produce stand on Speedway Blvd just down the street from the track. The Wallace Produce Stand. it became a tradition to stop there on the way in and pick up fruits and vegetables for race week. Then it closed. No more Wallace Produce Stand. That took a lot of enjoyment out of race week, but made for some fine memories.
Danny Dennis - September 26, 2021 12:34 am
He was known locally as Lootie Toot.
Linda Moon - September 25, 2021 5:09 pm
Home-grown tomatoes are the stuff of great mythology. But Reeltown is real…been through (but not TO) there many times. I’ll think of Mister Wallace on my next trip to or through Reeltown and look for a stand with home-grown tomatoes. And I’ll be thinking of my own “Mister Wallace” too….my Daddy!
Christina - September 25, 2021 5:36 pm
Oh sweet Mr Wallace, we are blessed by your tender heart. Enjoy the tomatoes, but save us some 😉
Carolyn D Cursio - September 25, 2021 8:36 pm
“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.”
-This just brought the tears…been sad for 3 days and not able to cry. This did it.
Cynthia Russell - September 26, 2021 3:27 am
Thank You Shawn.. so sweet.. my Mom laid with ALS before she passed.. cruel way to go….
Steve McCaleb - September 26, 2021 6:08 am
I hope I’m wrong… but it seems to me that good people like you described in today’s story are a lot like homegrown tomatoes. Harder and harder to find. Maybe I’m wrong, I sure hope so.
RHONDA - September 27, 2021 12:26 am
Reminds me of Mr. Trawick. The boiled peanut man in Dothan. When ge died, the bank erected a peanut that looks like him. Says ” may the Lord ride with you” which is how he always said goodbye.
Debbie Cloud - September 27, 2021 12:27 pm
Sean Dietrich, you are just amazing. I have a week’s worth of your articles to catch up on so I’m reading them all here back-to-back! You really have a talent for sharing God’s blessings with people!
Rikki - September 27, 2021 2:52 pm
A great story to start my Monday. Thank you!
Lynne Daw - September 27, 2021 5:33 pm
Oh Sean, I love all of your writings but this one especially touched my heart. Maybe because I’m an Alabama girl long transplanted to Florida, maybe because like Mr. Wallace, I love Jesus too. Thanks so much for sharing.
Julie Cotten - September 28, 2021 4:23 am
Just down the road from us. What we call “Good Folks”
Ann Robbins Cameron - September 28, 2021 6:44 pm
Okay. You made my eyes water.
DONNA FISHER - October 12, 2021 4:58 pm
Oh, what a beautiful story! Thank you!