Wade… and His Garden

Jake had found out about Wade’s Garden, in Huntsville, Alabama, on Roadsideamerica.com. Imagine a man that bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus, and the jovial personality to match. Now take Santa out of his red suit, dress him up in jeans, flannels and a Carthart jacket… and imagine he’s had 4 stokes. Because Wade has. And while the strokes may have slowed him down physically, they have not weakened his grasp on life or his commitment to live his life to the fullest, while showing the world what an old man with four strokes under his belt can do.

Wade shining bottles for his blue bottle tree.

We had read that Wade is very happy to show off his home and garden to visitors, but, since it is his home, visitors need to call and schedule with Wade. We called when we were about an hour out, but Wade was not at all put out by this. He told us that the town’s Botanical Garden was putting his stuff on display and that he’d get us in for free, just to meet him at Jordan Lane and Barbed Wire? Brandy Wine? Due to Wade’s speech difficulties and/or southern accent, Jake couldn’t quite understand what the name of this second street was. Thankfully, due to modern phone technology, we were able to figure out that it was Bob Wallace Ave, where we met Wade at a local BBQ place and followed him into the Botanical Gardens. Wade’s big trick of getting us in for free turned out to be simply because anyone can enter for free during the day this time of year, but at night they were charging $15 for visitors to see the light show.

Following Wade through the light show before dark.

Wade drove us through and stopped at what was a bunch of his sculptures sitting on the side of the road, most of which were laid down on their sides. Well, that wasn’t quite what we were expecting to see, but we oohed and ahhed and commented on how nice they were politely before getting back into the truck and continuing to follow Wade’s oddly bumper stickered pickup. Finally, Wade stopped in front of a tree made out of rebar, which had some indigo blue bottles placed on the lower branches. There were two other men there, one of which was up on  scaffolding welding part of tree.

Wade’s sculptures ready to be put up for display at the botanical garden.

Wade’s eclectic truck.

So my conversation with Wade went something like this.

Wade: This is the biggest blue-bottle tree in the world
Me: (incredulous) oh yea, the biggest in the world?
Wade: The biggest in the world, probably.
Me: Probably?
Wade: (happy Santa Claus chuckle and shrug)

Then Wade told me all about the purpose and history of blue bottles trees, which I unfortunately was having a very hard time understanding. I got that the bottle kept something away, and that’s why they don’t have something down south, but have all kinds of something in the north. Well, I smiled and nodded and muttered a few “Well, how about that”s because I had no idea what he was actually saying to me, but later I was able to look up the history of blue-bottle trees. Apparently they originated in African-American cultures and were used to keep away “haints” or evil spirits, and I thought we were talking about some sort of bug!

Checking things out.

After about ten minutes of standing around looking at this bottle tree, making comments to Wade and his two friends about it, it became clear that Wade didn’t have anything else to show us here. Since I could tell that Jake was not about to thank the man and go on our way, I figured I’d find something to do- and so I asked if I could help. Wade put me to work cleaning off the ‘kerosene’ covered bottles with a towel. (Jake later insisted that it was diesel fuel not kerosene, but I like the sound of Kerosene better.) They had used the kerosene to get the glue from the labels off the bottles.

April shining bottles for the tree.

After quickly filling a bucket with clean bottles, someone said something about me climbing up and putting them on the tree, which got me all kinds of excited because I love a good chance to climb just about anything. So I climbed some of the low, stronger branches, and started putting bottles on the tree while Jake handed them up to me. I must have put up about fifty on all sides of the tree when I decided I couldn’t reach any more branches, and anyway, my hands were freezing. I was wearing gloves, but they were damp with kerosene by this point in time and it was about 32 degrees outside. When I came down, Jake climbed up insisting he could get the rest of the tree. And, well, that show off sure did, including the largest bottle, crowning the top of the tree.

April climbing the blue bottle tree “like a squirrel”

April making her arms longer, really stretching to place some bottles.

Jake adding the final bottles and getting ready to crown the top of the tree.

Those three men were just tickled  by the unexpected completion of the tree. They had a cherry picker lined up for the next day, but said they didn’t need it anymore.

Jake helped the men clean up while I took a little warm-up break in the car (my toes felt like they were about to break off.) When I came back out, the men were messing around with a leaking welding tank (or argon cylinder as Jake called it). Apparently, argon is an unstable gas that could easily explode, which I didn’t know at the time, but I knew something was up when I saw Jake slowly backing away from the men and the tank. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jake back away from a situation like that, so I took the subtle cue and followed his lead. Luckily, they managed to close the valve without any explosions occurring.

Wade thanked us for our help and paid us in a box of oranges, which apparently his church had sent him. He made some comments that made it sound like he was offering us a place to stay for the night. He also alluded that he was sure “this one” (me) was a good cook.

Unfortunately, we decided that we wanted to get back on the road, so we didn’t take the opportunity to stay with Wade, cook him  a delicious dinner, or even actually see his garden for that matter.

We got back in the truck and drove a few hours to a rest stop where we hunkered down in the bed of the truck and got our first decent night’s sleep of the trip.

Lookin’ in to our portable bedroom

The view from our truck bed in the morning