Bass Singer Still Going Strong
By Susie Sims
||Burleson and his wife of almost 55 years, Doris
After suffering what was a devastating fall last summer, avid gardener Bernard (pronounced BERnard) Burleson has returned to one of his favorite places—his garden.
Last June, Burleson was working in his large garden with his wife,
Doris, close to their home in Marion County. As Doris headed back to the house a short distance away, Burleson finished his work and headed for the house himself.
He barely made it out of the garden when he stumbled and fell, breaking both his arms. One arm had a compound fracture and was bleeding horribly.
Fortunately, Burleson was able to yell for help before his wife made it to their house. Doris hurried to help him and called for an ambulance.
Burleson, 74, spent four weeks in the hospital and in rehab in Helen Keller Hospital in the Shoals area.
Surgery and therapy helped him heal, though he spent a few weeks in a wheelchair. Burleson, who walks with a cane, could not walk until his arms healed enough to support his weight when he used a walker.
Now, he is mostly back to normal. He does, however, use two canes when he walks outside. And Doris keeps a closer watch on him when he’s out alone.
"I’m glad to be back out working in the garden," said Burleson. "We love to eat fresh vegetables."
He has also enlisted the help of a few of his neighbors to tend his garden. Cleburn Mays has helped a good bit, said Burleson.
Mays uses Burleson’s Allis Chalmers Model G tractor to cultivate the garden for his long-time neighbor and friend.
Burleson uses a Massey Ferguson 135 when he tills the ground. "I can get on and off it better than the Allis," said Burleson.
|Burleson and Little Bear take a break from gardening.
Man’s Best Friend
Local folks have come to expect Burleson to never travel alone. When he’s out and about in the community, his "best friend" can always be found close by.
Little Bear, a nine-year-old Boston Terrier, loves to ride in the pickup. He is sixth in a line of Boston Terriers that Burleson has had since the 1970s.
Little Bear is no stranger to the garden. He goes with Burleson and stays nearby.
When the dog was four months old, he posed for a picture for the local paper with Burleson’s prized 22-pound cantaloupe.
Little Bear’s predecessor, Big Bear was no-torious for guarding Burleson’s pickup. Local folks knew better than to approach the pickup when Big Bear was inside. He was what Burleson called "protective."
As you might have guessed, the names of his companions have special meaning. Burleson is a huge University of Alabama fan and loves to watch Alabama football.
||Avid gardener Bernard Burleson shows off his Allis Chalmers G model tractor, which is still used in his garden. The tractor is from the 1940s.
Big Garden, Big Heart
Though he is retired now, Burleson still plants a large garden by any standard.
"We set out 100 tomato plants this spring," said Burleson. "Of course, they were killed during the frost." He and his wife have replanted and tend to the garden regularly.
Burleson is somewhat locally famous for his plentiful supply of watermelon and cantaloupe. He shares his bounty with neighbors. He has been known to announce at church that anyone who wanted could get melons and tomatoes out of his pickup parked outside the front door.
Burleson has always been willing to share his produce. He said that when he worked at the textile plant in Haleyville, he would take produce to work and sell to his co-workers.
"The women at the plant loved to get watermelons and cantaloupe that I brought," remembered Burleson. "They would pay me a quarter or 50 cents."
In addition to melons and tomatoes, the Burlesons also grow okra, peas, beans and corn. In fact, they had 16 rows of sweet corn that were killed by Easter freeze.
Burleson purchases his garden seed and plants at the Winston Farmers Co-op in Haleyville.
|Bernard Burleson gardens from his four-wheeler.
Jack of All Trades
Before he retired, Burleson had many irons in the fire during his 40-plus years in the workforce.
He worked as a cutter at a textile plant in Haleyville for 35 years. He cut the sample fabrics for the mill.
Burleson, his father and one of his brothers used to haul sawdust for chicken houses in the area.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Burleson said he hauled coal to local houses for use in Stokermatic heaters.
He had cattle for many years until his health began to deteriorate in the early 1990s.
Burleson said he also spread lime and fertilizer from Carbon Hill up to Hackleburg. He bought his supplies from the Co-ops in Haleyville and in Hamilton during that time.
Singing—A Life-Long Passion
Besides gardening, Burleson has another talent he’s known for locally. He is a gifted bass singer.
He began singing in church as a young boy and really developed his talent while in high school.
"At church, they had me up and leading songs when I became a Christian at 11 years old," remembered Burleson. "I liked to sing."
While at Phillips High School in Bear Creek, music teacher Felix Riggs nurtured Burleson’s gift and got him to sing publicly with a quartet.
Burleson sang with several quartets over the years. Two of the quartets made records — the Rhythmairs and the Happy Tones. The groups traveled around the area singing at various events and at gospel conventions. They even had a radio program on the local Haleyville station for some time.
Burleson recalled that one of his quartets traveled to Walker County to sing at the opening of the Co-op store in Jasper during the 1950s.
The group even made an appearance on the Country Boy Eddy television show and on Channel 15 in Florence.
Now he confines his singing to church services. Burleson is a member and elder at the Whitehouse Church of Christ in Marion County.
"I love to go to singings," said Burleson. "I never get tired of that."
At the big Homecoming Day at the Whitehouse Church, Burleson is known for his love of singing bass and eating banana pudding.
The church hosts its homecoming on the third Sunday in July every year. Last year, because of his accident in the garden, Burleson missed his first "Third Sunday" in his lifetime.
"It was hard not being there," said Burleson. "So many people said they missed me."
It wasn’t long until Burleson was back at services. Sometimes he is able to lead his traditional first song of the service, which he has done for many years.
Burleson is grateful to have recovered from his injuries and resume his active lifestyle. He hopes to stay active for many years to come.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.