"It is the evening of the day … "
Dateline: Behind The Glass, Cullman, Alabama
Without laughter, can it be a summer.
Can it be a beach, without bare feet.
Is it a swing set, if no child swings.
What is a playground, if children don't play.
Where is home, if home has been blown away.
"I sit and watch the children play … "
Over Cullman, Ala., today, was a Homer Simpson sky, blue sky, a few puffy white clouds.
I saw myself in the sky, as I sat behind the glass of a Cullman County Sheriffs vehicle … reflection on the window … reflection inside the man on the glass.
As we drove toward Sportsman Lake Park, we drove through a town that had been blown down.
Even under bright skies, I could see, could tell, the April storm, was still on the ground. We were warned to stay out of "a hot zone," as a building half taken by the tornado was finally completely taken by a bulldozer.
Empty lots stood where once careers had been.
A town made of bricks was now being found one brick at a time.
I saw a church that faced the tornado head on, only the windows were broken, and then I walked around to the side and saw the church was sliced in half. Men out back in the tiny church parking lot were going through the rubble, one fragment at a time.
Relics from before the storm.
From Behind The Glass I saw a fence. It wasn't a straight fence, it wasn't a fancy fence, it was a fence erected by people in mourning.
Behind the fence was a pile of rubble. To me it looked like it was the area where the dump trucks took blown down Cullman … and dumped it.
Behind The Glass I learned different. "That tall pile on the right, that was a church, that big pile on the left, that was a four-story school.
I saw myself looking through the fence, looking at the bricks and books, desks and blackboards, looked myself in the eye inside the cop car and saw in my eyes what everyone in town knew.
For that pile of what was once a school, there will never be a Class of 2011.
" … my riches can't buy everything … "
I have stood before a pile once before.
After The Planes.
Saw my reflection in the horror of those around me. Told myself, just this once, just this once.
I stood a mile away from The Pile once.
Stood on a New Jersey pier with my friend Bob Ley of ESPN as he did a "Live" shot for ESPN's Outside The Lines. From across the Hudson River we could still see the glow from the flames, could still see the smoke rising where the buildings once stood.
Could still smell the horror in the air. Saw blue lights bounce off bare steel beams.
Told myself, just this once, just this once. I am not made to stand in front of piles. People don't have the parts needed to deal with piles.
Just once, just once.
Is now twice.
I don't have any more room inside of me to stand in front of another pile.
We have become a land a people digging through piles. If your pile sits within sight of 5th Avenue, no one forgets your pile.
But if your pile sits within sight of 5th Street in Cullman … in Joplin … in Tuscaloosa … in dozens of small towns in the South, Midwest and up in New England … your pile will fade.
But as someone unfortunate to stand before both piles, please know this, under any pile of any size … lies sorrow.
Someday the pile will be taken away, the pain of the pile will never go away.
" … I want to hear the children sing … "
The lake, was empty.
Except for the Bass.
And some ducks and geese.
The lake, was still.
Dreams of summer, gone. Quieted by the piles. Silence the only sound. I came to a park with a tiny railroad for children, with a playground for children, with a lake stocked with fish for the children to catch.
There are fish, I saw them.
No children though, I saw that as well.
The storms of spring have stolen the children's summer. The store they rode their bike up to for a cool soda, a frozen blue ice thing … isn't there anymore.
The ice cream shoppe is gone.
The used game store is gone.
Their church has been cut in half by the wind. When the tornado came through it took with it the summer that would never be.
When it took their house, it took with it all the things that make a kid a kid. It wiped the smiles off their face and silenced the song within their heart.
I have seen Cullman, Ala., mostly from safely Behind The Glass.
I have looked in my own eyes in the reflection, and stayed safely Behind the Glass.
Them out there is you.
Me is I safe inside of here.
Until I met a child.
Standing in the pile.
" … all I hear is the sound
of rain falling on the ground … "
His name is Ethan.
I have never written his name in public before.
I have to now.
I have to because I have to say something to Ethan. And he has to know it is to him that I speak.
Ethan when you walked up to me from the pile that was your house, from the pile that was your childhood, when you helped me move stuff out of my RV so you could move in, when I told you my home was your home, except for my MacFarlane Elvis, and you told me you loved Elvis too, the skinny Elvis, just like me … and that you would take care of him as your own, Ethan of the pile, you changed me.
And you may have changed my life as well.
Ethan loves to fish, bass fish, but when the storm took his home, it took with it everything that was inside. All his clothes, all his books, all the toys of a 9-year-old boy.
And it took with it the magic wand of childhood.
His fishing pole.
Took all his fishing stuff. I know because I saw it all busted up in the pile that Ethan walked out of.
I knew then, on the spot, I needed to fix this, and when I told Elite angler Russ Lane about it, he came up with the fix, "Let's take Ethan fishing."
So surprise Ethan … this upcoming weekend, after the Dixie Duel on Wheeler Lake … you're going fishing … with one of the best anglers in the world.
Russ Lane will take you out in his boat with his stuff and get you back on the lake.
We can't give you back everything you have lost, but by goodness, we will GIVE YOU BACK FISHING.
But Ethan, here's the most important part, because of you, and the fact you brought me from Behind The Glass, put a person to the pile, showed me it's not about bricks and sticks, but of the song of childhood, from you, came this.
I plan to take EVERY child in the area who lost their magic wand of childhood … lost all of their fishing stuff … we will also take all of them FISHING.
We will put the piles behind them, if just for a couple of hours, and we will bring them back to the lake. Back to childhood.
This July 2, from 8 a.m. until noon, on the quiet lake I saw without children on the banks, Sportsman Lake in Cullman, we will fill the banks with children fishing. For all those who have lost their fishing stuff to the storm, we will give them the stuff BACK.
Ethan when I saw your rod and reel combo crushed in the debris of what was once your childhood, I knew that there had to be other children like you, on a story on WWW.Bassresource.com I asked for help … help to get the kids of Cullman back fishing.
And the response was overwhelming, so much so that I formed a non-profit thing called Tackle The Storm Foundation … with the only goal being when it comes to children fishing, what the storms take away, we will give it back, we will make sure every child who lost their magic wand, will have another one, and that it will come to each child, from an angler who cares.
… there will be laughter this summer.
There will be bare feet on the beach.
There will be giggles on swing sets, and playgrounds will be filled with play.
And out of the piles, homes will grow.
Because there are people all over this country, who love you, love all the children of the storm.
And they will not sit safely Behind The Glass any more.
" … I sit and watch
as tears go by."
As Tears Go By
The Rolling Stones
To donate to Tackle The Storm: Cullman, Ala., you can do so through:
RCBC Outdoors Adventures
24849 County Road 222
Bremen, AL 3503
Office is open M-F 8 A.M.-3:30 P.M. (256-287-1613)
Or you can contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org