I met Ted Pullen almost three decades ago, when we were both closer the the beginning o our careers than we were to the ends. That’s changed for both of us, now sliding down the backside of our chosen work. What hasn’t changed is that Ted and I still love to tell and hear stories whose result is that we’re both laughing. During phone calls and occasional meetings in person when I travel through his home near Siketson, Missouri, we share worries about our kids, now grown well past needing our worries. When I began Black Soil way back in the early 1990s, Ted introduced me to his extended family of farmers, his farming neighbors, the differences between Black and white agriculture in the Bootheel of Missouri — a place I found impossibly flat, wet, hot and humid. I’d never stood in a cotton field or a garden growing okra. There was a lot to learn. Ted was my teacher.
Ted has now retired from farming, but he still owns his land. He rents to other farmers and helps his nephew Andy Pullen with his farm, which sits on the other side of the Pullen Family Cemetery. It was at the church in that cemetery that Will Atwater and I were going to spend last Memorial Day, fully immersed in the annual Pullen Family Reunion. CoVid-19 quenched that gathering, so we’ll have to go back once we’re all travelling and blessedly socially undistanced. Based on past experience, I expect hugging and some intimately close eating at that reunion. I also expect to exchange stories with Ted — stories that may have no purpose beyond making us laugh.