Nathan, or “Nate” as we know him, can’t say enough kind words about the community where he sells the paper on Andrew Jackson Parkway in Hermitage.
When he’s out there selling The Contributor, people stop by to buy the paper, plus bring him water, meals, fruit, even a box of chocolates.
“People are so friendly,” Nate says, lighting up in the way he does when he’s speaking about anything he enjoys. “One man brings me a sandwich, a soda, chips and gives me $20. He calls me by name. He’s like a guardian angel.”
Nate sells the paper six days a week. He’s a salesman, and says when you’re out there you’re not just selling a print publication, but also yourself.
“I put a lot of work into it. I do a lot of walking, and waving and smiling. You have to do that,” he says.
The smiling and waving comes easy for the friendly 63-year-old, but walking is difficult. In 2010, Nate fell down concrete steps while moving furniture. The accident left him with two titanium rods in his leg.
Nate says, “If I sell the paper too long, my legs hurt."
He adds, “If it weren’t for The Contributor, I’d be down.”
Nate is currently experiencing homelessness, and has spent time sleeping at the mission and friends’ homes. He dreams of having his own apartment. “It’s hard for me. I got caught buying Sudafed, and they (the court) gave me six felonies. I spent two months in jail, went through a drug program and graduated,” he explains.
There are many reasons Nate longs for his own home, but he especially wants a kitchen where he can prepare some of his favorite foods: turkey, stuffing, macaroni-and-cheese, sweet potatoes, potato salad and pies.
“I love to cook. That’s my passion. I’ve been cooking since I was 10 or 11 years old. I learned from watching my mother bake pies and cakes. Everywhere I lived, I’ve been the cook."
Nate was raised in Washington, D.C., after he was adopted at age 2 into a devout Catholic family.
“I was a very lucky child. I got every toy you could name. My mother and father were very hardworking people,” he says.
Nate dropped out of high school in the 10th grade because he wanted to work and make money.
He later became a father to six children.
"I’ve changed a lot of pampers,” he says, chuckling.
After Nate's five children in D.C. reached adulthood, he set out to see California by hitchhiking. After making it to Knoxville, a truck driver brought him to downtown Nashville.
That was 17 years ago.
Now, Nate calls Nashville his home. (He even cheers for the Preds along with his beloved Capitals.) “It’s a friendly place. I like the people,” he says. “You can’t go hungry in Nashville.”
Nate has been selling The Contributor on and off for a few years, then steady for the last few months.
“At first, I didn’t know where to sell. I was skeptical. (But) I got a spot – it’s like a gold mine. I make 70 to 80 dollars a day,” he says.
Nate’s poems are frequently published in the paper, and he says writing comes easy to him.
Besides working toward permanent housing, he also hopes to one day be reunited with his children, and his grandchildren, many of whom he says he has never met.
He encourages people to take the paper, not just give him cash, because it helps him “move up in the ranks,” as he says. Vendors can earn map badges and other awards for meeting sales goals.
“Thank you to all of my customers,” he says. "I pray every night; I pray for The Contributor, and all the customers who contribute.”
Read poems by Nate below.