Reeltown, Alabama—the high school parking lot is slam-packed with cars. People are parking on the grass, trucks park over at the fire department. I find an open space on the school lawn.
My wife and I enter the gymnasium. It’s loud inside. There are four hundred people seated at cafeteria tables. There is enough fried chicken in this room to short-circuit the U.S. government.
Local ladies tend to the crowd, dressed in aprons. High-school girls with pitchers refill sweet tea, young men with football jerseys gather empty paper plates.
This is a fundraiser for Wallace Mann.
You’d like Wallace. He is a country preacher in this community. And in this world, there are two different kinds of preachers. Country preachers, and everyone else.
“Brother Wallace always made the rounds,” said one man with white hair. “Do you ‘member when country preachers used to make the rounds? No, you might not, you’re too young.”
As it happens I once I worked as an assistant to a preacher who made “the rounds.” He spent four days each week driving to hospitals, standing at bedsides, visiting nursing homes, holding hands, or taking out trash for an elderly man who couldn’t get out of his recliner.
“That’s what Brother Wallace would do,” the old man goes on. “He did it every week without fail before he got sick, he made the rounds.”
Mister Wallace is positioned near the stage in a motorized wheelchair. ALS has taken its toll on him. He is not able to move like he used to. Sometimes, just talking wears him out.
Miss Ann feeds him with a plastic fork. His family is seated around his table. He is wearing his high-school colors.
“Oh, he loves Reeltown football,” says his wife. “He used to play here, you know. He tells everyone he was was defensive guard. He used to guard the the bench.”
That gets a laugh out of a few people.
Ann has been with Wallace since she was seventeen.
“We were young when we met,” she says. “He used to drive mules when I was a girl, he’d ride them past my house, I loved looking at him, I knew I wanted to get to know him.”
Their first date was sitting on a porch swing, talking. Fifty-eight years later, they’re still continuing that same conversation.
Mister Wallace’s wheelchair faces the gymnasium stage. He can’t see how many people are filing into the room behind him. They enter by the hordes.
After supper, various people take the stage and speak into a microphone. Mostly, they talk about him. It’s a moving evening, listening to everyone talk.
The ALS hasn’t affected Wallace’s ability to blush.
After a few raffle-ticket drawings, a talent show, and door prizes, someone asks Mister Wallace if he wants to say a few words.
You bet your life he does. No preacher in the history of fried-chicken suppers has ever turned down the opportunity to “say a few words.”
A hush falls over all four hundred people. His wheelchair moves toward the podium. His daughter wheels his oxygen canister behind him. His wife turns his chair to face the audience.
Clapping begins. Then, a standing ovation. A loud one.
Soon, the walls of the gymnasium are ringing something fierce. His blue eyes turn red. His wife holds a microphone to his mouth, but he can’t find words to say. It takes him time to pick the right ones.
This could be the only time in history a preacher has ever come up short on words.
“Oh my,” he says, “I didn’t think this many people were here.”
His voice is Alabama, his hair is snow, his heart is a continent. His lower lip trembles, his eyes are strong.
He is the sort of man most wish they could be, but are simply not built for it.
“I have contributed so little to this world in my short life,” he says. “I’m jest so humbled.”
When his speech is over, people form a long line to speak with him. I am standing in this line. People shake his hand, kiss his cheek, and hug his neck.
Some thank him for visiting their ailing mothers. Others want him to know how much they appreciate his help when they were at rock bottom. Everyone has something to say to him.
All of a sudden, I realize what I am seeing.
Though Mister Wallace is in a wheelchair, though he is unable to move much more than his left hand, though ALS is brutal on a body, and though every day is a fight, he will always be a country preacher. And these will always be his folks.
And nothing can stop him from making his rounds.
Sandi in FL. - March 5, 2019 6:31 am
What a tearjerker of a beautiful story about a dear country preacher! This pressure-cooker world needs many more like him who are willing to “make the rounds” in their community. God bless you, Wallace Mann. Job well done and appreciated.
Lisa Lewis - March 5, 2019 6:33 am
Thank you for your down to earth observations. I have just subscribed to this blog and I so enjoy your gentle wisdom that is so badly needed during these negative times.
Betty F. - March 5, 2019 8:20 am
Jody - March 5, 2019 9:19 am
Thank you Sean for taking us along to the event honoring Pastor Mann. What a wonderful tribute to a special person. Jody
Steven P Bailey - March 5, 2019 10:42 am
Kelly - March 5, 2019 10:47 am
Thank you for sharing this touching story. If we had more Pastor Mann’s we would be in such better shape.
God bless him and his contribution and bless you for yours.
Mary Sarge - March 5, 2019 1:02 pm
Beautiful Sean! A wonderful way to start the day.
Susan Self - March 5, 2019 1:42 pm
Thank you for sharing this wonderful man of God with us. Thank you Sean for my heart vitamins.
Beki Denison - March 5, 2019 2:18 pm
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Thank you for this great story and please let Alabama folks know we are all praying for them.
Richard - March 5, 2019 2:20 pm
Thank you for sharing.
Brought back many memories of my father. Also a country preacher.
One of God’s faithful humble servants, as is Pastor Mann.
Sarah Kennard - March 5, 2019 2:36 pm
Thank you for a beautiful story on a cloudy, gray morning.
Phillip Saunders. - March 5, 2019 2:41 pm
And the whole congregation said, “AY-MEN!”
Paula Link - March 5, 2019 2:46 pm
Your words take my breath away. Don’t ever stop making your rounds.
Charles Kinnaird - March 5, 2019 3:06 pm
Thank you for sharing this. I knew Wallace Mann and his wife Ann (he used to call her his “right hand Mann”) when I was in High school and he was preaching in Dadeville. They are both wonderful people. Glad to see this community support during difficult times.
muthahun - March 5, 2019 3:22 pm
Thank you for your stories of just plain good people, Sean. And I’m relieved that you and your your blog continue in the wake of the tornadoes.
Nell Thomas - March 5, 2019 4:09 pm
Discovered you several days ago. Your stories are the kind I love to hear.
Linda Moon - March 5, 2019 4:49 pm
I like Wallace Mann, though I’ve only met him through your story. I was blessed to have a pastor who drove my Mom and me to the hospital when I was a very sick child. Brother Williams wasn’t a country preacher, but he made rounds and more for us people in his congregation. I wish I could hug Wallace Mann right now and Brother Williams one more time.
Barbara Shweda - March 5, 2019 7:13 pm
I am new to your works and am happy some dear friends introduced me to your writings. God bless you for recognizing love in everything.
Barbara - March 5, 2019 7:23 pm
Thank you for this heart warming, eye watering view into a special event for a special country preacher. We have a need for those old country preachers more today than any other time. Thank you for sharing your special view of so many things that many of us over look or pass by without a thought. You have a way of making us take a closer look at people and things we encounter every day.
Sally Johnson - March 6, 2019 12:22 am
I enjoy your words everyday. I grew up in Reeltown and went to school with Wallace. I know he has touched many lives. I am glad he is appreciated. Keep writing and I will keep enjoying your work.
LeAnne Martin - March 6, 2019 11:44 am
Bless him and others like him. And you for telling us about him.
Kristine Wehrheim - March 6, 2019 5:16 pm
Thank you for the beautiful story and God bless Pastor Wallace.
Estelle Sexton Davis - March 7, 2019 8:59 am
Too many people are crowded into large cities now. The old country preachers are fast disappearing. But there are still small towns where the preacher makes the rounds and folks love and appreciate them. I am so sorry that brother Mann has been stricken with this terrible disease. I will pray for him and his family. This is a hard road that he and his family are having to travel.
Thanks for letting all of us know. Keep on writing.
Kathryn - April 3, 2019 1:17 am
Just beautiful. This story would make a dog cry, as my Grandmama would say.
Sharon J - April 3, 2019 2:40 am
Thank you, Sean, for reminding us of the sweet, simple life that so many of us have lived through the years. Also for the country preachers!