Hot weather, hard work don’t bother Willie Jordan

Published 12:30 am Sunday, July 4, 2010

He has few, if any, wrinkles and very little gray hair, and though he admits to getting “awfully tired sometimes,” Willie Jordan prefers hot weather — “I don’t like no cold weather. Hot weather doesn’t get to me. You see, I was born in June when it was hot.”

Willie, who spends six days a week outdoors, was 88 on June 14. He cuts grass and does lawn work for a living, something he has been at for 40 years — and before that he was a logger, and before that he worked on a farm where he was born.

If he had listened to one of his doctors, he wouldn’t be doing anything; for when a tree fell on him when he was logging at Fitler more than 40 years ago, one of his physicians told him to do very little, the other said for him to do nothing.

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The falling tree cracked his skull, and he had two brain operations in eight days, was in the hospital 2 1/2 months, “and when I came home, I like to have gone crazy. There was nothing to do.”

He had worked a small garden plot with W.B. Duggins, and he decided that was something that wouldn’t hurt him. He wanted to rent a spot for a garden from David Bridges; his children had offered to pay for it. Bridges had a better idea: Willie could use it for a garden, free, as long as he would share the vegetables. Then he asked Willie to build a flower bed for Mrs. Bridges.

“I said it would take me some time,” Willie remembered, “and it took four days. I didn’t like the looks of it, so I took up everything and reworked it.”

When Bridges asked how much he owed, Willie told him he had no job, no income, so, “Whatever you give me, I thank you for it.”

When Bridges gave him $100, Willie said, “I felt like I had just gotten religion!”

People saw his work and liked it and he began to get calls, “and the next thing you know Mrs. (Paul) Pierce called me, and I blundered on out there.”

That was 29 years ago when he began grooming the Pierces’ lawn in Lakewood. About the same time, Bobby Bailess called, and a few years later, Dr. Debbie Smith and Mr. and Mrs. D. P. Waring got in touch with him. The result is full-time working “for the best people I’ve ever known in my life.”

Has the equipment he uses changed much in those years? “Oh, Lord, yes. I started with an 18-inch Lawnboy I got from Mr. Melsheimer. I could put it in the back of my car,” and now he has mowers of various sizes, trimmers, chain saws, a pressure washer, “and I’ve kept on and on and now I’ve got about $9,000 or $10,000 in equipment. I’ve got everything I need for a job,” but he’s quick to add that he has all the work he can handle right now.

Willie works every day but Sunday, and that day you’ll find him at Ebeneezer Baptist Church on Grove Street, where he has been a deacon for years. If something happens and he can’t get to church, “I’m not satisfied. I don’t just go for nothing. I put something into the service so I can get something out of it.”

If he’s not working on Saturday, it’s only because it’s raining.

Willie can’t remember not going to church. He grew up, one of 12 children, on a farm in Issaquena County, and his father would tell them, “No Sunday school, no breakfast.”

His mother would get them up before dawn to go to a before-day prayer meeting, walking about two miles in the dark, and Willie figures the only reason they never stepped on a snake was because “the Lord took care of us.”

Sundays were for rest and worship, and Willie and his brothers and sisters and friends “didn’t shoot marbles or play ball on Sunday. You put out the feed for the chickens and cows on Saturday evening, because on Sunday you ain’t going to do nothing.”

Willie was baptized over the levee at Fitler when he was young, and that vow he made to the Lord and his love for the church have always been important. He well remembers the day when one of his sons laughed out loud at a worship service when the building was full and the mourners’ bench was crowded.

“He laughed — and I looked at him — and he laughed again,” Willie said. “I took him by the hand, went outside and got a switch off a tree and took that limb to him. I guarantee you one thing — when he left home 21 years later, he hadn’t laughed in church any more.”

When Willie said something, he meant it, a trait he probably inherited from his father. His daddy made no promises, he said, but would tell you, “Let me think on it a little bit.” He thought his father was mean, “and I thought, ‘Lord, I’ll be glad when I’m grown, glad to get away from here.’ But since I’ve been grown, everything he said to me was right. I’ve lived to see it.”

His father, he said, was uneducated, but, “He told us, ‘I’m going to teach you how to work. I’m going to teach you how to treat people. And, when you get out on your own, don’t let your hands stick to nothing.’”

Willie was born in Tallula, Miss., and went to school there “the few days that I went.” He remembers during the Depression working 60 hours a week chopping cotton for 6 cents an hour — that’s $3.60 a week — and was paid each day with two quarters and two nickels. On the last day of November 1942, when he was 20, he married Fannie, and when he was 28 they moved to Rolling Fork. They moved to Vicksburg in 1966 and bought a home in 1970. They had 10 children. His wife died in 1986. He married a second time and that wife died in 1988, leaving him with two young children.

He and his daughter do the housework, and they share the cooking duties. Willie said his mother taught him how to do such things “because you ain’t guaranteed to have a woman all the time.”

Knowing how to meet people, how to speak, one’s personal appearance makes it easy for anyone to get a job, Willie thinks, adding that a polite “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” will take you a long way.

Though he has a twisted vocal cord, “It doesn’t keep me from talking.”

He has never liked parties and crowds: “When I go to church — that’s my crowd.”

“I love to work,” he said. “I work a lot of times that I don’t have to, but I’m not satisfied sitting down, doing nothing. I’ve got to stay busy. I don’t know anything but work. That’s all I ever did.”

At 88, he’s proof that work and hot weather aren’t likely to kill you.