The people's voice of reason

Tears and Laughter: Gardening and fishing may be the secrets to a life well-lived

They tell me the road was paved right before I moved here. Prior to then it was dirt. It is still not nice enough to call a farm-to-market road, but once upon a time there were cotton field along each side.

I guess that is why nobody here ever complains too much about the potholes.

The road is one way in and one way out. Nobody just happens to be passing through. If someone is seen, they are known…or they are lost.

At the end of the road after the pavement ends, and down a short drive, is a house. Nothing fancy. I want to expound upon how not fancy it is, but I am so taken with the place I don’t think I objectively can. It is no antebellum. It houses no ornately carved European antiques. It is much more authentically Alabama. More simple than most can appreciate, with a wealth few can see.

If the walls could tell the stories they’ve heard and recount the history they have seen, we would all likely shudder. There is a gate out front that locks, but there is no picket fence. She runs a chain through a hole in the gate and around a post, then locks it with a padlock.

Most afternoons, if weather allows, you will find Carrie Mae Pettway rocking on her front porch. Several lazy cats keep her company, as she watches the evening surrender to night before her supper. Supper routinely consists mostly of vegetables she has grown.

Outside of her eight children – five girls and three boys, all of which she will proudly tell you about – her garden is her joy. “I’ve had my own garden since I was six-years-old,” she said. “I’ve just always loved to grow things.”

Wednesday, June 12, Ms. Pettway turned 89. She was born in Beloit, Alabama – a community in rural Dallas County. She was the youngest of 12 siblings. Two of her older sisters are still living. The three of them remain close. It was her marriage that brought her to Wilcox County, though she has been widowed for several years. Just last week, she pulled the last of this seasons onion crop and dug what was left of her potatoes. They were ready, and at the time it had turned dry. She replanted the space where they had been with running butter beans. She said she had been praying for rain for her corn. She also claims it worked. The corn stalks tower over her head.

Her garden spans almost a half acre. She has a fence around it – mostly to keep out deer, wild hogs, and small varmints from coming in through the adjoining woods. The fence is made of dog wire and salvaged sheets of rusted tin.

She works in it daily. She keeps it free from weeds and the rows in shape using only a garden hoe. Or as she said, “Ain’t nothing been in there but a hoe.” Her hoe with the handmade handle is a story within itself.

“People are always saying, ‘Let me give you three dollars for a handful of your greens,’ – but I won’t take no money. I give them away or I will trade, but I’m not taking money. That is why I have been blessed with what I’ve got to give.”

Outside of gardening, one of her other joys in life is fishing. She enjoys fishing for bream in the pond behind my house and in return, she welcomes me into her garden – which I consider a privilege.

Happy Birthday Ms. Pettway. You are one of the best of the rest of us.

Amanda Walker is a contributor with The Selma Times Journal, Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Alabama Gazette. Contact her at or at


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