WINFIELD—If you’re just passing through, you might not even notice this tiny Alabamian town. But the people here are great.
I once had a friend from Winfield. Every time we saw each other he gave me a gift, without fail. I once asked why he did this.
He shrugged and said, “‘Cause that’s just how people from Winfield are.”
Which isn’t hard to believe. The town is roughly twenty-five miles from the Mississippi line, and about as wide as it is high. Let’s just say that if you took the population of Winfield and crammed them into a football stadium, you’d fill up one row. Maybe two.
The downtown is nice and maintained. You could pitch a baseball from one end to the other.
A few months ago, Winfield celebrated Mule Day Festival, an annual tradition. A mass of jack Mules parade up the streets towing wagons, getting showered with affection.
The festival started as a downhome parade. Today, it draws nearly 25,000 people from across the southeast who come to honor the American Mule.
“Mule Day’s great,” says one old man. “Lotta people forget, but our nation was built by a lotta purebred jackasses.”
He laughs at this. Because like my pal once said, that’s just how people in Winfield are.
Well, yesterday afternoon the good people of Winfield were lining the quiet streets. They had gathered to see a different kind of parade. Some held banners or balloons. Others were bundled to fight the chill. Everyone was there.
They were waiting for Wyatt.
Wyatt Spann is four years old. Last year, he was your typical toddler. He loved dinosaurs, cartoons, and especially trucks. Then he took ill. When he wouldn’t quit vomiting his parents took him to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.
His mother said, “We thought he had a stomach virus that had been going around.”
That’s what doctors thought too. But the blood work came back normal. So they gave Wyatt some fluids, a pat on the rump, and sent him on his way. But right before Wyatt left the exam room the doctor noticed something.
“We were about to be discharged,” Wyatt’s mother went on, “when the doctor noticed his right eye turn inward toward his nose for just a second. He asked us if it had done that before and we said no.”
Then all hell broke loose.
There was a tumor on Wyatt’s brain the size of a golf ball. It had leaked down his spine. The next morning, Wyatt underwent six hours of surgery. Doctors removed the mass on his brain stem. Next, he had to have a shunt placed into his head to regulate pressure in his brain.
For six weeks Wyatt’s family lived in the pediatric ICU. Six weeks of sleeping in the seated position and surviving on crummy hospital Jello. And that was just the beginning.
Since then it’s been the systematic nightmare that cancer promises. And then some. Chemo, radiation, MRIs, tests out the wazoo. Too many treatments to name here.
But that’s not what this story is about. This is a tale about Winfield.
One man remarks, “People from all over Winfield, the county, maybe even the world have prayed for and reached out to Wyatt’s family.”
He’s right. The town has been pulling together tighter than three-ply carpet ever since his diagnosis. And in Alabama, news tends to spread faster than the Bangkok flu. It wasn’t long before people in nearby counties, states, regions, and all over the world were praying for Wyatt Spann.
There were fundraisers, donations, casseroles, baskets, gift cards, toys, the works. The people in Winfield might not be many, but they are loud.
Then. More bad news. Wyatt’s most recent MRI came back. The cancer has taken over his brain. Hard times are ahead. Doctors told Wyatt’s parents that he might only have a few weeks left to live.
Tuesday, they released him from Saint Jude’s Hospital in Memphis and sent him home. It was a crushing blow. Wyatt’s ambulance left Tennessee around 3.P.M. to bring him to Alabama. And everyone was waiting.
It was your average January day in Winfield. Cool. Clear. The late afternoon shadows covered the downtown shops. The sunset hit a distant steeple. People were standing on curbs, rubbing hands together to stay warm. Banners held high.
“Here he comes!” said one person.
The first vehicle came into view with flashing lights. People on the street pointed toward Wyatt’s ambulance.
“There he is!”
And that’s when everyone saw it. The motorcade escort of the century. Vehicles upon vehicles. Upon vehicles.
“You could hear it rumble from a mile away,” says one lady. “Like an earthquake.”
The monstrous procession behind the single ambulance stretched toward the horizon. Police cruisers, fire trucks, tow trucks, eighteen-wheelers. One right after another, until onlookers started losing count.
Winfield Police Department, Winfield Fire Department, Acadian Ambulance Service, Bear Creek Fire Department, Pea Ridge Fire Department, Twin Fire Department, Haleyville Fire Department, Lynn Fire Department, Brilliant Fire Department, Byrd Fire Department, Shiloh Fire Department, Craft Fire Department, Ward’s Towing Service, Price’s Wrecker Service, Holcomb’s Wrecker Service, and Alabama State Troopers galore.
People applauded. Many cried. And everyone will keep praying until their knees bleed.
Because. That’s just how people in Winfield are.