Fear no weevil
By Lisa Smartt
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 8:01 pm
My life was changed in Enterprise, Ala. While I was there on a speaking trip, my gracious host took me to the city square of this lovely southern Alabama town. And that’s where I saw something I had never seen before. Ever. Right there in the middle of the square was a statue of a boll weevil. Yes. A boll weevil. Of course, I couldn’t ignore the statue. It was meant to be acknowledged.
My host spoke with enthusiasm, “I guess you’re wondering why we have a boll weevil statue downtown. Well, years and years ago, the boll weevil came to this area and ate our cotton crop. I mean, really cleaned out the area. The cotton crop was almost completely destroyed. Our area was devastated.”
My reply was immediate, “Wait a second. If the boll weevil ate all the cotton and crushed the farmers that year, why in the world would you build a statue to honor that destructive little weevil?”
“Lisa, that’s the most interesting part of the story. The weevil crushed the cotton crop. Everyone was depressed and distraught. But guess what happened next?”
“I’m on the edge of my chair.”
“Farmers discovered that this area was a perfect place for raising peanuts. Peanut crops brought great prosperity to our community. We probably would have never discovered the financial significance of raising peanuts had the weevil not first destroyed our cotton.”
At the time, it just seemed like a fun story. A little bit of southern history. But it took on new meaning this week. I was on an airplane sitting next to a woman who had just lost a lot of money in a bad business deal. As a single mom of college students, she was distraught and unsure of her business future. I listened intently as she shared the details of her past life of prosperity in San Francisco. She had owned a thriving business and had taught her children the significance of hard work. Now, her business was dying. She wiped tears from her eyes as she talked about the inevitable loss of the home where her children were raised. Clearly, a boll weevil had come in and “cleaned out her cotton crop.” She was 51 years old and it was all gone.
Finally, she apologized for telling her story with such detail. I assured her that there was a purpose in our being seated on the same row and that I found her story inspiring, not depressing. I held her hand for a moment and asked if I could tell her a little story of my own. I recounted every detail of the statue of the boll weevil. She continued to cry and smile at the same time.
“I know. Enterprise, Ala., is a long way from San Francisco. But I think maybe a boll weevil has come in and eaten all your cotton crop. All that’s left is just a bare field. It seems that God has utterly forgotten you. But I don’t believe that. The people in Enterprise would have never planted peanuts until they first experienced the loss of the cotton. I don’t know what crop is next for you. But I believe the greatest blessing might be just around the corner.”
Our time together ended with laughter and smiles. As she walked up the small aisle and out of the plane, she turned back and said, “I will never forget that story.”
My reply was simple. I repeated the motto I had learned in southern Alabama, “Fear No Weevil.”
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 4.29.09