“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19, King James Version).
I read this verse in the flyleaf of Daddy’s Bible in 1972 when I had borrowed it to prepare my first sermon. I did not know nearly enough about the meaning of that verse to preach on it, so I prepared and preached a sermon on why bad things happen to good people instead, based on Luke 13:1-5. I did not know enough to preach on that topic either, but at least I told folks what Jesus said about it and hope the Holy Spirit gave hearers understanding beyond my own. As for Genesis 3:19, I asked Daddy why he had written part of God’s curse on Adam for eating the forbidden fruit in the flyleaf of his Bible. I tell this story in chapter 11 of my book, The Land That Calls Me Home. His answer was that that these words were spoken by God, and when God’s Word is obeyed it brings blessing.
Hughey Lavelle Reynolds is now 100 years old. We celebrated his birthday last month. He was born at home on June 23, 1914, to Thomas Hughey and Inas Octavia Whatley Reynolds in Barfield, Alabama, an unincorporated community near Lineville, AL. I give you those details to underscore the agrarian legacy they passed down to their namesake. Farming was the only way of life my grandparents knew. However, in 1920, Granddaddy Reynolds took a job with the railroad and moved the family five miles into the town of Lineville within walking distance of the Depot. The Great Depression would soon follow. Granddaddy had one of the few paying jobs during the Depression because the trains had to run. It was with the income he still had while many others lost everything that Thomas Hughey Reynolds purchased 113 acres of land in the 1930’s. Half of that land is part of the 85 acre farm my wife and I own today. The other half is part my late brother Rod’s estate.
Fast forward to the 1940’s. Daddy’s attempt to volunteer for the Army during WWII failed. The medical examiner detected a heart murmur and issued him a medical deferment. I am not sure what the examiner heard, but Daddy’s heart at 100 seems to be fine. Nonetheless, Daddy stayed home and started a “farm custom work” business. He turned a lot of terraces on Clay County hillsides and prepared a lot of ground for crops on farms left to wives and mothers of men away at war. It was then that Daddy bought his first tractor, a John Deere B. He also worked for the local John Deere dealer, the Lineville Gin and Fertilizer Company, and became a top notch tractor mechanic. Daddy’s brother, Thelson, served in the European Theater as a member of the Army’s Military Police. He wrote home to his wife and mother almost daily. Weeks passed and neither heard a word from him.
Grandmother Reynolds was worried sick, literally. Someone suggested that she travel fifteen miles south to the Clay County, Alabama community of Millerville to visit Mrs. Rena Teel. Some people called Mrs. Teel a fortune teller. She claimed she had the gift of discernment by which she was able to determine answers to quandaries and mysteries no one else could solve. Grandmother asked Mrs. Teel if Thelson was alive. She assured her he was alive, although he had suffered an injury, and would return home safely. She also told Grandmother something Grandmother had not asked. She told her that her family owned a piece of property that would one day be very valuable.
When I first heard that story in the 1950’s, I would take a wood frame with a wire mesh bottom in it to the farm to pan for gold in the branches and creeks there. I was sure I was going to find gold and be rich one day. When I got old enough to help Daddy with the farm chores of stringing barbed wire fences and working the cattle or loading the calves to send them to the sale or cutting and baling hay, I began to form a new theory about the value of the land my family owned. In the 1990’s, when part of that farm became mine, I abandoned my childhood wish that there would be gold in the streams or beneath the soil’s surface on the farm. I was beginning to learn that the dirt itself was the source of life not only for the pine and hardwood trees and the forages of the pastures where the cows graze, but also for me.
Like the majority of children born into agrarian families in the mid-to-late twentieth century, I left our rural home and farm, obtained a college education, and found employment in larger and larger cities. The farm on which I was raised was a distant and sometimes suppressed memory. One might call the decision of Thomas Hughey Reynolds in the 1920’s to take a job with the railroad fortuitous. It enabled him to purchase the land that was passed down to a grandson he never knew (he died 9 years before my birth). I call the decision providential, for through it and subsequent decisions, by divine grace, God has called me back to the land, to love it and value it and honor it as my father did when he plowed the ground in the sweat of his face and penned Genesis 3:19 in the flyleaf of his Bible.
Mrs. Teel’s prediction has already come true. I have found the treasure of the land in the form of the life-giving soil that covers every inch of it. I have heard God’s Word speaking to me through that ground calling me back home, actually calling a generation back, to the land, to care for it, to till it, and to receive the life that God created the land to provide. Stake your claim on whatever piece of land you have, however small it may be, and discover the same treasure of life in it.