Dan Lovette became an usher at the Baptist church on Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1961. He stood at the door shaking hands, passing out bulletins. Nobody knew Dan.

Weeks earlier, Pastor Lovette had introduced Dan as his older brother.

Dan was a tall man with a soft voice and rough skin. He wore a brown suit that was too small. He hardly spoke. He sat on the front row during sermons. After service, he smoked cigarettes behind the church. People asked the pastor questions about Dan, but he was quiet when it came to his older brother.

Over the years, folks saw a lot of Dan Lovette. He could be seen pushing a mower, changing the church sign, painting clapboards, passing out bulletins on Sundays, or cleaning the sanctuary on Mondays.

Dan lived in a back room of the church. His earthly belongings were: a cot, a hot plate, a coffee pot, a transistor radio, a shaving kit, and one brown suit.

Nobody can forget the Sunday that the pastor announced he would be baptizing Dan after service. This surprised people. Most thought it was strange that the pastor’s own brother had never been baptized. But no explanation was given.

So, sixty-four church members stood near the creek, watching the tall quiet man wade into shallow water behind his younger brother.

It was a simple ordeal. Down Dan went. Up he came. Applause. Bring on the banana pudding.

But life was not all pudding and baptisms. In 1974, tragedy hit the church. The pastor was in a car accident on his way home from Montgomery, doctors thought he’d had a stroke while driving. Dan sat beside his brother’s hospital bed without sleep or food. He lived beside his brother’s bed, taking care of his brother’s every need.

The next Sunday, Dan Lovette took the pulpit with tired eyes. It was a hushed room. It was the first time any members of the church ever heard more than a sentence from old Dan.

“Most of you know me as Dan Lovette,” he began. “But that ain’t my name. Real name’s Springfield. Daniel Springfield…”

It was so quiet you could hear a Bible drop.

Dan went on to tell the story about how in 1961, Pastor Lovette had been walking into a department store when he saw Dan standing outside, begging for money. Dan was homeless, looking for handouts—or a bottle to cure his shakes.

Pastor Lovette treated Dan to supper. Then the pastor carried Dan home to live with his wife and kids. He helped Dan. He sat with him through hard withdrawals, he took Dan to sobriety meetings, he bought Dan a brown suit for Sundays.

Dan went on: “I felt so bad for all his charity, I came close to leaving. But the pastor just told me one night, ‘You can’t leave us, Dan. Why, we’re brothers, you’n me.”

Dan had never been anyone’s brother before. He’d never been anyone’s anything. All he’d ever been was hard up. But not anymore.

So he got rid of his old name, and his old habits. And if I had room to tell you the rest of the story, I would. But there’s no need. You already have the important parts.

What I will tell you is this: If you’re ever driving a lonesome two-lane highway in the middle-of-nowhere, Alabama, and you see a dilapidated, clapboard meeting house, pull over.

Go to the rear cemetery. A few graves have flowers. Most don’t. There’s a marker for Pastor Lovette, and one for his wife. And there’s a headstone for a man who died sober, with his adopted family surrounding him.

The stone reads: “Big Brother Dan.”

He was just some homeless guy at a department store. But now he has a mansion.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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