Thursday, December 26, 2013 —
Come year’s end Millingport is set to lose what many consider to be the heart of the community and one man’s purpose.
Christmas at Crossroads Grocery is usually a festive time. It’s typically an unofficial but steadfast resource that saves Christmas for the needy.
“I’ve watched that man spend thousands of dollars at Christmas on children and their parents, too,” said Jada “Starr” Nettleton.
He’s been the one who local school teachers pass wish lists of needy students.
“One year a young boy only asked for a toothbrush because he didn’t have one at home,” Starr said.
“He made sure that boy got toys for Christmas along with a toothbrush. That just broke his heart.”
He is Lindell Morton, or Mr. Lindell to everyone that dashes in and out of his Crossroads Grocery, at the intersection of N.C. 73 and Millingport Road.
Starr calls the 71-year-old store owner the soul of Millingport who has spent much of his life giving to those less fortunate, or to blue-collar neighbors simply trying to keep their heads above water.
Commuters who don’t have money for gas to get back and forth to work stop by Crossroads where Lindell spots them a tank of fuel until payday. Farmers in need of fuel until they finish harvesting their crop know Lindell will oblige them.
“He’s always been here for this community,” Marilyn Tucker said.
“Anybody who needed anything, he would always give it to them.”
Tucker talked about the time a motorcyclist abandoned his girlfriend outside Crossroads. Lindell made sure the woman had anything she needed before getting her to a woman’s shelter, she said.
“They took up a collection for that woman to help her get back home to her family. Along the way she met another woman who needed help and she shared that money,” she said.
Those who know Lindell attribute his generosity to his own humble life.
“Lindell grew up dirt poor,” Starr said.
“He’s been without.”
Neither is Lindell too proud to remember his lean times.
“I came up hard,” he said.
“We didn’t have a crumb in the house to eat. The church was our friend.”
Because of his hard knocks, Lindell remains sensitive to the plight of others, especially neighbors.
“We’re like a family here. We help each other out,” Lindell said.
“You’re supposed to help each other.”
Lindell helps year-round. He’s helped families for two generations.
“He gives people milk and eggs, to those who couldn’t afford it,” Starr said.
“He paid for it out of his own pocket.”
When storms knock out the electricity in the area, Lindell calls on a friend to power his store with a generator so he can serve neighbors.
Churches call on Lindell for supplies, which he transports in the same van that he carts store inventory. Last week he drove to Winston-Salem to pick up fruit for holiday baskets to be distributed Sunday at church.
That same Sunday, the church had a prayer for Lindell, a diabetic faced with so much uncertainty.
He’s not a typical merchant nor is Crossroads a conventional business.
“I’m not a businessman,” Lindell said.
“I believe in being good to people and they’ll be good to you.
“I love my people. God knows I love my people.”
Perhaps that’s why most who enter Crossroads greet him smilingly with “Hello, Mr. Lindell.” Children, who are often treated to free candy, repay the aging Lindell with hugs.
Lindell’s indiscriminate assistance and generosity has taken a toll on his own finances.
“I used to help more children than I do now. I’m broke,” Lindell said.
Most keep their word and repay Lindell when he extends them credit. Some, however, take advantage of his giving nature. Friends say Lindell has at times loaned large sums of money that he never recouped.
“I’ve been beaten by some,” Lindell said.
He lives in a square room inside the store, which has its benefits for emergencies. Like the mothers who call during the night in need of medicine for their sick child. Lindell meets them at the door in the dark.
Lindell admits his business is down from recent years. He blames the economy while worrying for his customers.
“People’s having it hard. They have no money,” he said.
“There’s no jobs around.”
When Lindell fell into a financial pinch, some of those who witness what he does for others rallied to his need. They raised $10,000 in one day to keep Crossroads open.
Like some of his customers, Lindell is having it hard, too. He’s on the verge of not having Crossroads anymore.
His lease expires at the end of the month and the owner wants to explore other options, Lindell said.
Feeling that he’s being forced out leaves Lindell bitter this holiday season.
“This is the first year that I remember that there’s no Christmas tree in the store,” Marilyn said.
Instead of holiday decorations, his landlord’s notice decks the wall for everyone to see. It’s the only sign that Lindell is supposed to be going elsewhere. With less than a week to go, it’s business as usual.
Friends worry about Lindell with many offering the hospitality of their homes.
“I wish he was going away to a good retirement, but he’s not,” Tucker said.
“I don’t know how a man at his age starts over.”
Lindell seems more mad about having to leave his business and customers of 24 years than his plight.
Between his anger about the lease and a history of surviving hardship, there’s still fight in Lindell’s eyes.
“I lost my mom and dad years ago and that was hard, but this is next,” Lindell said.
And there’s perspective from a life of giving.
“Money can’t buy you love and happiness. And it can’t buy you into heaven. If it did, I’d be in trouble,” Lindell said.
Call Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynews press.com.