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Green thumb leads to Golden Rain, deep friendship

 

Matthew Shelton of Columbus is pictured among the lacy blossoms of the Golden Rain trees he tends at the home of Lola Atkins in Columbus.

Matthew Shelton of Columbus is pictured among the lacy blossoms of the Golden Rain trees he tends at the home of Lola Atkins in Columbus. Photo by: Kelly Tippett

 

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To protect the autumn buds from frost, Shelton used fitted sheets as bonnets over the dome-shaped treetops.

To protect the autumn buds from frost, Shelton used fitted sheets as bonnets over the dome-shaped treetops.
Photo by: Courtesy

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

In spite of a brutal summer, fall foliage has managed to produce a colorful palette in the Golden Triangle. Admirers of Lola Atkins'' Golden Rain trees on Williamsburg Road in North Columbus are apt to go even so far as to knock on the door and ask for a closer look.  

 

Seldom seen in Northeast Mississippi, these trees native to Eastern Asia are star autumn performers, dripping with lacy clusters of yellow flowers. For Atkins, they represent more than a dramatic show. They are testament to the conscientious care of Matthew Shelton -- caring that extends far beyond the landscape. 

 

Matthew first met Lola and her now-late husband, Troy, four years ago, when he agreed to help the senior couple with their many plants. The 59-year-old Columbus school bus driver, who retired after 30 years at American Bosch (later United Technologies and Johnson Electric), now operates a small cleaning service and does some landscaping.  

 

"When I first went to the Atkins'' house, they were having dinner, and they invited me to have it with them," Matthew recalled. "I don''t normally do that, but I was led to sit down with them because of what they said when they asked me. When we sat down, we all joined hands, and they blessed the food." 

 

And that''s how a long-standing tradition of meals and fellowship began. Almost every day Matthew was at the Atkins'' home, Lola cooked. "That would be the routine," he said. "We would eat and laugh and talk, and it really built the relationship." 

 

Matthew and Troy Atkins would develop a bond. Matthew would take the elder man on outings, sometimes to restaurants, sometimes to the younger one''s farm. 

 

"My husband passed away in August; he was 93," Lola shared. "Matthew took care of him like no one could. He''s a very caring person. ... He lives his faith every day." 

 

Matthew reflected, "I tell you what, I never met a man that age that seemed to be so peaceful. I do miss him -- I really do." 

 

 

 

Swing low 

 

At times during Matthew''s usually twice-weekly visits, Lola would play the piano and encourage him to sing. 

 

"Before I would leave, I would sing Mr. Atkins a song," said the Columbus man. "He loved ''Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.'' Yes, he sure loved that song." At the family''s request, Matthew sang the moving spiritual acapella at his older friend''s funeral in August. 

 

"I really was blessed to get to know Mr. Atkins. Mrs. Atkins, she''s a beautiful person. I try to do my best to take care of her," said Matthew, who watches over the yard, trees and more than 50 sunroom plants. He also keeps a protective eye on Lola, especially since her recent ankle break. 

 

"She''s an amazing women," he said. "She''s always doing things for other people, helping them and that type of thing." 

 

"I don''t know what I would do without his help," said Lola, who shuns attention for herself. "Somewhere in all his busy schedule, he''s there for me every week." 

 

Much has changed in the Atkins'' household since the Golden Rain trees bloomed last fall, but the re-emergence of the vibrant yellow blossoms have confirmed that life -- and friendships -- continue.

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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