For over 190 years, the people of Perry County, Alabama have been working hard. Farmers have been raising crops, teachers have been shaping lives, preachers have been saving souls and mothers and fathers have been doing their best to provide for their families… Perry County, Alabama was founded on December 13, 1819. And, since that time, it has remained an area rich in cultural traditions and the strength of its people. Unfortunately, this is a community in dire need, confronted with economic stagnation, declining population and insufficient health care and schools. This is their story.
Meet Ulysses Jones.
Ulysses Jones sits, and waits. He’s been here for a while…
Nellie gave her husband a kiss on the forehead and then quietly drifted off to sleep. Ulysses held her hand for a moment, but eventually moved to the front porch of their tiny, four-room house on Magnolia Drive. Nellie fell ill five years ago, but lately she seems more tired. More fragile. Less like herself, and more like a patient. He doesn’t want his bride to think she’s a burden, but he’s tired, too. Ulysses had a kidney transplant a while back and remains on dialysis to this day. He has to remind Nellie almost every morning why she can hardly draw breath.
Then, they weep together.
The doctors took her legs last year. Diabetes. Since then, she’s been quieter. Nellie Jones is a happy person. She loves her husband and her God with all of her heart. You can see it in her eyes, and you can feel it when she smiles. But after the infection moved into her arms, she began to fade away.
Every evening, Ulysses starts out in the bedroom, rubbing Nellie’s head until she falls asleep. He usually falls asleep fully clothed and sitting up, but when Nellie begins coughing or crying or calling out to no one in particular, Ulysses moves to the porch where he prays… and waits.
Ulysses cooks dinner and serves his bride: fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and homemade applesauce. Nellie tries to eat because she knows how badly he needs her to stay strong. But it’s too much. And she’s too tired. Ulysses smiles a big, toothy grin and kisses his wife on the nose — the
way he’s done every day of their life together. Nellie coughs. Ulysses cleans the dishes and whistles her favorite tune. Nellie becomes very quiet and drifts away. Ulysses returns to the bedroom and covers her misshapen body with her favorite blanket — making sure the tassels fall short of her face and fit snugly beneath her chin.
Nellie rests quiet now. And Ulysses waits.
More stories from “The Blackbelt” coming soon.
Part of “the blackbelt” and just 45 minutes outside of Birmingham, Perry County is the 11th poorest county in America. Helping to tell their story has been one of the most heartbreaking, encouraging, empowering and enlightening experiences of my career. To find out how you can help folks like Ulysses Jones, click here.