By KEN BECK, The Wilson Post
A man with two passions, Lebanons Bob Cross appears to be at odds with his own nature.
He readily confesses an addiction to collecting, but he spends much of his time giving away household goods to the needy.
I was collecting long before I started giving things away, said Cross, 82, a Korean War veteran. My daddy was a collector. After he died, his auction lasted three days. He picked out things that were worth something. I get a lot of it from him. I just think my kids are gonna have a big time when I die.
The house he built 41 years ago, about a quarter mile from the shore of Old Hickory Lake, overflows with items he either bought, found, was given or that were passed along by family members.
Most of these things I put a tag on cause my kids dont know (what they are). They dont know squat, he said matter-of-factly.
His collections include ice cream and soda glasses, old record albums, old telephones and a few hundred ball caps. Among cherished family heirlooms, a piano dominates the living room. In 1860 it was shipped by wagon from New York to his grandmothers home in Mt. Juliet.
Meanwhile, Cross has a 75-foot-long barn that spills over with more stuff than Noah packed on the Ark. The red building is stashed high and wide with everything from an electric fan and a porcelain sink to a baby crib and an old water cooler. Stashed round and about are used file cabinets, mattresses, toys, rugs, quilts, lamps and racks of clothing.
We got to get rid of some of this, Cross said. We dont sell any of it. We give it all away. Weve got to put some more in. Weve had three deliveries this week. We take anything.
The bulging barn is where Cross performs his unheralded ministry. Practically everything here was given to him. He will pass it along to needy families.
I have a few friends who know I will take things, and they bring them in person or will send me things. I dont tell anybody where I get anything or who I give it to. I dont want to embarrass anybody, said Cross, who today wears black shoes, overalls, a white shirt and a John Deere Gator ball cap.
We try to fix things up before we give em away. We dont want people to get something we wouldnt want ourselves.
They find me by word of mouth. I do have a card I give out to people at yard sales. Most of the time they come and get it. I dont charge anything. I figure if they want it bad enough, they can come get it.
The front of his card reads: Junkologist, R.M. (Bob) Cross.
Flip it over and youll find his mission statement: I collect junk, repair the repairable, save the good, donate to the needy, help children. Anything that can be reused will find a new home. Old telephones receive special care.
Hes always had a servant heart. He can take stuff and repair it and make use of it, said Crosss son, Corky. I think he sees people that need things, and he has access to folks that want to get rid of things, and he hates to waste anything. If he can take it and repair it and make your life a little bit better by it, hes glad to do it.
Bob and Dolly Cross, who celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary this month, worship with Cedar Grove Baptist Church. Their union has produced five children: Steve, Corky, Crysty, Flint and Tracy (deceased) and 12 grandchildren.
Mama and I work down here a little while every day, Cross said. My wife, shes a mechanic and got her radio license. Shes very smart. Shes also got Alzheimers.
I dont know if you can make deals with the Lord or not, but I told Him, If you just let me stay healthy, Ill take care of her.
Neighbor Jim Adams lives a half mile up the road and comes down frequently to lend a helping hand. He holds up an item and says, There must be something goes with this, but I aint found it out."
Were big buddies, Adams said, referring to Cross. I try to tell him to slow down. Him and his wife keep going.
Adams and Cross meander about the barn, studying the situation.
I had two friends, Richard Huddleston and (the late) Terry Chafin, who built on to the barn for me. Only they didnt build it long enough, Cross said. You have to have a lot of friends to do this.
The fix-it-man pointed out a high chair, a cider press, a Paul Bunyan doll, a wheelchair and an ancient wooden telephone booth, and said, I have no idea whats upstairs. I havent been up there in 20 years.
Pictures, he said wearily of the nearly 100 paintings hanging on the walls. Thats my downfall. We may have an art sale some day.
The generous, gentleman junkie grew up in Donelson and worked for 36 years as manager of the telephone company in Lebanon. His collecting took off like gangbusters when he retired in 1983.
A hand-painted sign that belonged to his father hangs above the entrance to his barn and reads: A.R. Cross & Sons, Junkologist, 1974.
The iron gate at the driveway entrance bears the name of the estate: Roar Valley.
Cross explained, noting, You got motor boats going up and down the lake, cars up and down the road, and were in the landing path of airplanes, so we just call it Roar Valley.
While most folks visit his barn to give or to fetch, Cross some days takes his charity on the road.
I go to the Mennonites about once a week or so and carry them ice. They dont have any electricity. Theyre always happy to see you with ice, he said.
Not wanting to see anything thrown away, Cross pointed to old refrigerators on the ground behind the barn and informs, These old chest-type deep freezers. The ones that cant be fixed, I take to the Mennonites. They keep their feed in em. The rats cant get in.
After giving a tour through his small kingdom of give and take and give again, Bob Cross surveyed his surroundings and said, When I get it cleaned up, Ill call you, but I could be a while.
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.