Tennessee Archive

I’m Willie Shelton’s Daughter

Posted April 11, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

We rounded the corner of the old country road and the all familiar blue farm house came into view. Approaching the Shelton farm always draws me back to the Road to Freedom Bicycle Tour and meeting Willie Shelton for the first time.

Today though, I returned with one of his daughters, known to you only as Mary. We sat sharing a meal and like always, Mr. Shelton regaled us with his tales of serving in World War II. Recounting how he’d been wounded three times, his eyes grew distant, as though he was walking through the countryside in Europe.

A new part of the story suddenly emerged. Though wounded himself, he helped a fellow wounded soldier get to a place of safely out of the line of fire. Tears filled his eyes as he remembered the words the grateful young soldier said, “If you ever needed anything, I will gladly do it for you.”

I looked across the room through my own sea of tears only to see those same tears in his daughter’s eyes. But those revealing eyes also told so much more. They held admiration and gratitude. They proudly said, “I’m Willie Shelton’s Daughter.”

He never saw the man again. Eventually, Mr. Shelton came home to the rolling hills of southwestern Tennessee and raised a family on the farm. Mary and I walked through those rolling hills together that day. She pointed out the pond where they fished and the pasture where they rode horses. The rope they swung on from in the barn still hangs from the rafters decades later. But if you listen very closely, you’ll hear their laughter as it rides on the wings of the wind.

Mary is strong. Unshakable. Full of life and has a simple, yet cemented commitment to what she’s doing. She helps others even at her own peril and then just goes on to the next thing as if everyone does the exact same thing. I’ve watched it for years. Now, after meeting and getting to know Willie Shelton and the tower of strength and decency he is, I realize the acorn really doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The more I know Mr. Shelton, the more I see him in my friend. Though small in stature, she stands as tall as the pines on the Tennessee mountains and has a presence that changes the room by just walking in it. In heart, she’s the spitting image of her daddy. Mr. Shelton’s legacy will live on in her long after he goes home to be with the Lord.

I marvel at the fabric Mr. Shelton wove into his children. They are all strong, just like him. He brought them up to live a simple life where people matter and lending a helping hand is as natural as eating watermelon in summer.

I’m grateful to know all of them and honored to witness the countless acts of human kindness in my friend that gives her the right to proudly say, “I’m Willie Shelton’s Daughter.”

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