Small Town Prisoner - Wanda Bullard

“Every time the fire department telephone rang, our telephone rang.”

Photo by Flash Rosenberg

Small Town Prisoner

by Wanda Bullard

A woman’s father trusts a prisoner, with surprising results.

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A Tribute to Wanda Bullard

By George Dawes Green, Founder of The Moth

Wanda Bullard would welcome almost anyone to her bungalow on St Simon’s Island, Georgia. And as she made a mean venison stew, and always had plenty of wine and Jack Daniel’s on hand, consequently a lot of eccentrics and oddballs and whirligigs would alight there. Late at night we’d still be out on her porch and telling stories. Dayton told of the night 20,000 chickens got away from him. Bill Jennings recounted his knockabout Navy adventures. Kenny told about driving home from Nahunta in a car overcrusted with candle-wax drippings.
But Wanda’s stories were much quieter. They were always about trust. They were tallies of the rewards that awaited trusting souls. For example, her tale of how her father had once trusted a prisoner in his keeping and was repaid with the prisoner’s redemption.

She’d tell of her travels, of how she’d trust strangers in far-flung cities and invariably wind up with the keys to those cities. Or she’d talk about her students, who were emotionally troubled middle-schoolers, whom no one ever trusted. She found that when she gave them a chance they’d often accomplish miraculous things. She wove her tales slowly, and lingered too long over a thousand insignificant details, but she had such a sweet and generous Mississippi hillbilly drawl that I don’t recall her ever being interrupted. We’d stare out at the fireflies and sip our bourbons and hang on her every word.

Years later I started The Moth in New York City with Wanda’s porch in mind. We were a big hit, and when I brought Wanda up from Georgia she got a standing ovation. We started calling her the Mama of the Moth, and she was in great demand as our ambassador and guiding spirit. Everyone fell for her. Doorman, taxi drivers, waiters. Folks from all over the world would write her fan notes, or come to visit her, to sit on that porch amid the congeries of adopted animals. She loved the attention, but she never changed. Any extra money that came her way would go into supplies and treats for her students. Her only extravagances were occasional yard sales or nights of seven-stud poker.

Last week she felt poorly and went to the Immediate Care Clinic. She told the doctor she was sure it was only gas—just before she collapsed from a massive coronary. She never awoke. When she passed—quietly, slowly, with her usual grace—her beloved sister Saundra was whispering softly to her, sharing memories of Mississippi, and I was holding her hand. The room was crowded with people who loved her. She was my best friend. It seems astounding—how can she be gone so soon? She leaves us only the memory of her vast caring and kindness, and a few precious recordings of her radiant stories.


Wanda dancing at The Moth Ball, during one of her visits to New York. Photo by Flash Rosenberg.