Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Encomium for Willie

I'm teaching my students about Encomium and Invective (writing in praise and/or blame of a particular person, policy, place, idea, etc.) for our Rhetoric and Composition class at the University of North Texas where I teach. I thought I'd share a sample Encomium I've written for a friend and mentor of mine, Willie Redmon. Here goes:

Willie Redmon looks like the kind of guy, if he were to be cast in a television sit-com, who you’d imagine leaning up against a fence with a cold beer, shooting the breeze with his neighbor about nothing in particular. He wears overalls. He speaks with a Texas drawl. He smiles a lot and his laugh is best described as a chortle.

But when you meet Willie, it’s more likely you’ll see him with a spade or hoe in hand instead of a beer. When he talks, instead of shooting the breeze, he’ll most likely wax eloquent about the latest crop of vegetables he and his community garden have just donated to the Arlington Food Bank. Willie, you see, is just your average guy who has done something decidedly un-average. He started the Harvesting Hope Community Garden in Arlington, Texas and has, in one year, managed to donate over a thousand pounds of produce to families in need.

Instead of leaning against fences and swapping stories (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Willie has decided that the best way of helping his neighbors is to grow them fresh vegetables. He’s taken the holy admonitions to “love thy neighbor” and “feed my sheep” beyond the abstract and made them practical. It all started in a church service, Willie says. He sensed that a crazy idea he had of starting a community garden on church grounds was more than a notion; it was a calling. He had no money with which to begin his project. “All I had was dirt,” he says. “But I told God I would grow him the best garden I could.”

Willie also didn’t have a green thumb. At his day job, he surveys land properties in the Metroplex. So he knew he had a tough row to hoe, as the saying goes, to create a successful community garden. Yet, once he committed to his idea the resources and help poured in. He received grants from Tarrant Area Food Bank to purchase building supplies. Church members donated plants, seeds, knowledge, and time. An unnamed business benefactor, wanting to participate in community service, donated $10,000 and teams of volunteer laborers to build dozens of raised garden beds.

When you meet Willie in his garden, his overalls will have garden soil on them. He’ll have his pockets full of seeds. He’ll likely snap a fresh leaf of lettuce or a cherry tomato straight off a plant and say, “You should try this.” Meaning, you should take a bite, right now.

Your 21-st century germ phobia may cause you to recoil. What about the dirt, you’ll think? The bugs? But, if you’re smart, you’ll do what he says. The thing is, Willie’s vegetables taste different from the ones you buy at the store. Sure, they’re grown without traditional pesticides but more than that, they’re grown with love. Willie and his garden are more than a sign of the eco-friendly, sustainable food conversations that are trending more each day. Willie is an example of what happens when a simple man listens to a calling. Willie, with his overalls and his vegetables and his easy chortle, shows us that it’s possible, as simple and humble as we may seem, to make a difference.