In the Biblical account of the flood, God speaks the dimensions of His Ark to Noah, naming in detail the materials and layout of the construction, its width, breadth, and height. The Miracle Cross Garden still sneaks up on you as you curve around the bend of Autauga County Road 86 near Prattville, Alabama. In reporting his death, local papers anticipated public questions about the fate of the garden. To commemorate his parents’ salvation, Rice tacked three small cards above his kitchen door, each professionally printed in black and white and picturing a cross alongside printed text. The three little cards grew into Rice’s Miracle Cross Garden, a landscape of revelation that has attracted visitors from all over the world. The inside of the Rices’ house is as elaborately designed an environment as the Garden outside.
On another occasion Rice indicated pictures, taped to his wall, of him and his old Labrador retriever, Mac. Off and on over the years, Rice would buy out the back page of the local Prattville Times and Centerville Press newspapers, and fill these pages with written sermons, plain black crosses, and significant numbers arranged into patterns.
As Rice writes, the numbers pile quickly upon one another, simultaneously referencing multiple points—dates, events, Bible verses—and spinning convoluted webs of spiritual meaning. Tune in Saturday mornings, 9-10 central time, for "The Lost Child," an hour of downhome roots radio, hosted by Lady Muleskinner's Burgin Mathews.
The Wilson Quarterly (Winter 2010 issue) reviews my "Brief History of the Boogie," published in Southern Cultures. He was the spiritual inheritor of the Old Testament hero, his warnings not of the flood but of the fire next time, his Ark not a boat but a Garden.


A few wooden crosses pointing in all directions, growing from the ground or nailed to trees and posts, evolve around the corner into hundreds. Eventually Rice also helped bring his mother and father, both of them death-bed repentants, into the fold.
With the advent of the internet word traveled far and visitors would come from Germany or Japan to the United States, just to visit Prattville and Rice and the Garden. Wooden, plastic, stone, and metal crosses—bought from stores, ordered from catalogues, or received as gifts—cover the living room walls and dangle in heavy bunches from the ceiling. The messages of the Garden comprise Rice’s Bible, stripped to hits most fundamental bones and emotional core, constellations of meaning exploded down into a few words, a single word, a chain of numbers, even a single number. Some visitors have told Rice that they first stumbled as unsuspecting drivers onto the Cross Garden, were moved by the scene, and accepted Jesus as a result. A van is parked in the driveway, the image of Jesus carrying His cross painted against its side; there’s also a pickup in the garage around back, a five- or six-foot cross extended upward out of its bed. As always—Rice and his crosses had long appeared in area papers as recurring local-color items—headlines were more concerned with the Garden itself, an item of curiosity and local weirdness, than with its message. Some visitors kept a distance from the man inside (when I was a teenager in Montgomery most people I knew were afraid of the Garden’s unseen creator); others knocked on Rice’s door to meet the man behind the crosses, to sign his guest book, even to give him more crosses or to listen to him preach.
Unable to add to the Cross Garden as much as he would have liked, he still managed to spend time outside in his wheelchair, but less and less time. Looming over the nearly three acres of roadside evangelism are three enormous crosses, standing in remembrance of the crucifixion scene at Calvary.
When he could not do the work himself he would give the instructions to his wife Marzell, instructions given first to him by God.


On the other side of the street, surrounded by still more crosses and crowned with an air conditioner fan, a hollowed mound of wood and dirt reconstructs Jesus’ empty tomb. It is without doubt a strange landscape, complete with its own language the outsider must struggle to understand—a language made largely of numbers, of truncated sentences and loose associations, overflowing with commas and repetitions, full of contradictions.
He welcomed the attention as a means for spreading the Gospel. Rice insisted that he would not argue or force religion, but would welcome the questions of the curious as invitations to witness. The face of Jesus, his scalp bleeding beneath a crown of thorns, looks through the peeling paint of an ancient plywood canvas.
On Saturday the 29th, when I got to the Nursing Home, my daddy had just passed away around four o’clock.
Once that door was opened, he said, you would probably have to stand up and leave before he would stop talking.
Photographs of Rice, his family, his dog and his truck are tacked to walls and ceiling amidst scores of newspaper clippings, strings of numbers, a few small rebel flags, and more crosses. There was one furnace and there were three men put in that furnace, they looked in there and saw the fourth man, His name was Jesus. Sin and Salvation, Jesus and Satan, Heaven and Hell, the Flesh and the Spirit come together in a kind of perpetual battle; the violence of their coexistence is wrought into the broken and beaten landscape of the Garden. Ever since, Rice was listening to God, talking to God, and preaching God’s word—from the makeshift pulpits of his pick-up truck and living-room recliner, in his occasional writings for local newspapers, and, above all, through his Garden.



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