People ask me about Mr. Kelly all the time. So, I figured I would write a few things about the first time I met him.
For those that don’t know me personally, I am not a full-time photographer. I have a regular 8-5 Monday-Friday job. The place I work at is on a highway and directly across the street is a little country convenience store. One day after work, I got into my vehicle to head home, and as I was turning onto the highway to head home, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of an elderly man having difficulties changing a flat tire. He had a little Mazda pickup truck pulling a 10’ open trailer that was loaded down with sweet potatoes. The flat tire was on the rear passenger side of the sweet potato trailer. I was already on the highway headed home when I noticed him, and as I got further away from the store, I felt like I needed to turn around and go help change the tire. Usually I ignore those things, but I didn’t this time. Mr. Kelly would later tell me, "God wouldn't let you go no further".
I pulled into the parking lot, rolled down the window of my Prius rental, and asked if I could help. He asked if I had a pipe wrench (which the Prius did not have). He was having trouble breaking the seal on the rusted lug nuts. I offered to try to get them off without the luxury of a pipe wrench, which I did. He had another tire in the truck, but it did not fit the trailer. It was already late in the afternoon (I remember it being around 6pm), and Mr. Kelly’s plan was to unhook the trailer, leave it in the parking lot of the store, go home and bring another tire the next day. I told him I would be glad to take him to the local Walmart to let him get a new tire. I knew they stayed open until 7. He declined, saying he didn’t have the money on him to get a new tire. I asked him to let me do my good deed for the day and get a new tire for him. Having been the recipient of such kindness before, I figured this would be a good time to pay it forward.
We get to the Walmart tire center, they start replacing the tire, and Mr. Kelly and I stand outside in the parking lot talking for the next hour like we were old friends. We talked about everything...race, religion (he used to be a pastor), raising kids (of which he has 17), etc. He reminisced a few times and told stories about his childhood. I found out he is a pig farmer and the sweet potatoes were for his hogs. He asked questions about me, and of course I told him I was a photographer. I explained to him that some people enjoy landscape photography, and other people are more interested in portraits. I told him I much prefer portraits of interesting people, and I asked him if he would mind if I came by his house sometime and make a few portraits of him. He gave me a big ole smile, and I knew the answer was yes.
A few weeks later, I met up with Mr. Kelly at his house. He hopped in my Jeep, and we rode down the road to his pig pen. On the way there, he was giving me an account of the conversation he had with his wife after he got home from letting me get his tire fixed. After giving her all the pertinent details, he said his wife asked him, “what kind of person does that?”. His reply? “He’s...he’s...he’s just a white man!”.
I’ve been back and visited Mr. Kelly many times now. Sometimes it will be a few months between visits, but after every single visit, I leave with this overwhelmingly good feeling in my soul.