Walter Gale Wills is the epitome of a simple man. He’s a no-fuss, no-nonsense, practical person. Sometimes he comes across as mean. His appearance can be rather intimidating. He always wears Lee Jeans with a leather belt that has “Slick” on it, dark brown cowboy boots and a white cowboy hat. He reminds me of John Wayne in a Western movie.
Despite that description, I see Gale Wills in a different light, because he’s also my Daddy. Yes, he may be stern and tough, but he’s also a caring and loving.
I’ve always thought of my Dad as a teacher – not a teacher of academics, but a teacher of life. He’s just one of those people that dispense tidbits of wisdom in every day conversation. It’s done so subtly too that you don’t even realize you’ve just been given a lesson.
When I think about those lessons that my Daddy has taught me, I see that most of them relate to his work as a farmer. This seems appropriate because, honestly, my Dad is more of a teacher by example than by explaining.
My Daddy has been a vegetable farmer for over 50 years here in the Glades. He’s an expert in radishes, celery, corn, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, escarole, and endive. Being a farmer is just something that he was born to do.
When I was a little girl, I would listen for the sound of my Daddy’s boots pounding the patio signaling to me he was home. I’d run to the back door and greet him with the biggest hug. His face would be covered in the rich, black muck darkening his already tan skin. He always smelled like celery and muck. His arms were usually full with fresh produce – so fresh that the celery stalks would still have muck on them.
I don’t think I fully appreciated what my Daddy did as a farmer until I got older. He works in one of the richest agricultural regions in the world. Palm Beach County ranks first in agriculture sales among counties west of the Mississippi River. My Daddy harvests vegetables that are not just served on my table, but on the tables of countless of families. My Daddy’s work feeds America.
My Daddy taught me that farmers are the true environmentalists. No one cares more about the land than a farmer does because it’s his livelihood. They are invested in the land. They are the real stewards of the earth.
My Daddy taught me to appreciate nature. He would load me up in his F-150 pick-up to go watch the sunsets over Lake Okeechobee. In the summers, we’ve spent countless hours sitting on the front porch swing of my Daddy’s family home place in the mountains of Tennessee. We were never doing anything. We were just listening to the birds and watching the deer meander through the fields. Sometimes in life you have to just be quiet and still in nature.
My Daddy taught me the value of hard work. Being a farmer isn’t easy. There are more early days and long nights than in most jobs. There’s a lot of patience and persistence involved. But watching my Daddy battle the temperamental weather, insects and diseases, work 16 hours days 7 days a week, all for a job that he truly loved and enjoyed also taught me to find something in life that I was passionate about.
That passion for me has always been writing.
My Daddy might not understand Facebook or blogging, but he does understand that I love writing and I love the Glades. He’s encouraged me to follow that passion wherever it would lead.
And it has lead me here – to this time in my life – where I have my own website dedicated to all news of the Glades and where I write a weekly column about the Glades for The Palm Beach Post.
If I didn’t have a Daddy that encouraged me or led by example, I know I wouldn’t be here.
My Daddy – more than anyone – has taught me to love the MUCK. I may not be following in his footsteps as a farmer, but I am following in his footsteps in his love for the MUCK.
Happy Father’s Day to the best Daddy a girl could ever ask for.
I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.