We had been driving several miles down the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway when our GPS told us to turn on County Route 8. We spotted the rock walls right away and pulled into the driveway, not knowing really where to park. We were greeted with a warm smile and welcomed into the life of a remarkable man.
Tom Hendrix, of Florence, Alabama draws crowds of visitors every day because he built a rock wall. But he is more than a builder… he is a storyteller.
We felt so fortunate the four of us, to have Mr. Tom all to ourself Monday morning. Sitting in a circle in his driveway, he took off his Alabama ball cap and rubbed his 87-year-old head returning his hat, he clasped his work-hardened hands and closed his eyes. As he gathered his thoughts, he began quoting the first page of a journal written about his great great grandmother by a local preacher a long long time ago.
You see, this wall was built for her. Te-lah-nay was her name, but she’s better known for her #59. She was taken on the trail of tears when she was 17 and given a tag to wear around her neck #59. Her sister was #60. After staying a winter she walked back home to Florence, Alabama. It took her 5 years. These walls were built to represent her journey to and from Oklahoma.
I could tell you the whole story, but I won’t.
You could google the story, but you shouldn’t.
You need to hear the story from Mr. Tom. You need to walk with him along the rows of rocks, you need to hear the catch in his throat, see the glistening in his eyes. You need to hear how many wheelbarrows and gloves he went through, and how many pounds of rocks he moved….and hear about his grandmother. You need to pray in the prayer circle and walk the entire length of the walls, and you need to ask Mr. Tom questions. And see for yourself his work of 30 years.
And when you go to meet Mr. Tom, take him a special rock, a rock that represents something to you. He will catalog it and add it to his collection there on the wall and he won’t ever forget where it came from. Listen to him. Hold the rocks other visitors have brought and hear their stories.
While you are there, you will think of friends you wish to bring back.
When you leave, you’ll wonder why you’ve never been. And you’ll find yourself thinking often of Mr. Tom and his great great grandmother, #59.
Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall
13890 County Road 8,
Florence, AL 35633
Open 8-4 daily