My Home Town: Gerald Swindle

“No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from…”

You need to know this about me.

I was pretty damn disgusted,

with you.

With America.

With society,

and the lie we call,

civilization.

As a news reporter for three decades, I knew, for a fact, we were anything,

but civil.

I made a very darn good living on the UNCIVIL things we did to each other.

And after 30 years of that, you disgusted me.

I didn’t like you.

I didn’t believe you.

I wanted nothing to do with you.

Even though I continued to tell the story of society,

in my mind, I had dropped out,

of it.

Welcome to the monkey house, I was safe from the monkey poop thrown at me because I had, in my mind, put up thick glass windows between me and all the bad stories thrown my way.

But I had checked out,

of,

America.

And with every story about the hatred, the badness, the meanness, the lying, cheating, worthless scum I had to deal with, I was also trying to check out,

of,

Me.

Pain meds, Margaritas, a lack of concern or even caring for my own health, in the mirror my blue eyes were turning gray, the soul of the hippie journalist,

stomped,

out.

I was in the shadow of a Golden Parachute, about to get a “thanks man for all your work, see ya.”

Leave the parking lot with a fat 401K, stock, 2 weeks pay for every year of hell, $3 prescription medical coverage to help dull the suburbs.

See…

…ya.

Your choice employee #167409.

Sign here, take this hat and tee-shirt as our gift and…

…see

…ya.

Or, you could sign this contract, sign something that had BASS LLC on it,

go write about people who catch fish,

delay the parachute opening.

In truth, when I picked up the pen from the glass covered desk, I was going to sign for the $3 Prescription plan but at the last moment I went with,

the people who catch fish.

I now know, my hand was guided by the hand,

of the universe.

The hand that created us, wanted to show me, the real you.

Not the freaks and morons I spent 30 years chasing around this planet.

And show me it did.

In 6 years I have travelled, 147,345 miles.

That’s 5.9 times around the circumference of this planet, but I never left America.

Been, now, to 25 states, big cities, little cities, towns and villages.

Been now, in big homes, little homes, cabins, single/double wides, 5th wheels, homes behind gates, homes behind trees, homes in hollows, homes on hills.

Homes on lakes, homes on the plains, bass boats, airboats, cabin cruisers and paddlewheels.

Have had Cordon Bleu, and quite possibly, squirrel.  Sweet tea and ‘shine.

Fat people, skinny people, people in camo, people in skin of all shades.

I have met dozens and dozens of you, maybe hundreds, maybe more.

We’ve taken pictures together, you have handed me hats to sign and donuts to eat.  I have patted the heads of your toddlers, and kissed the cheeks of your babies.

And you have talked, and I have listened.

And you have taught, and I have learned.

“…I cannot forget the people who love me…”

Learned, through you, through your stories a very simple, enlightening, life changing, for me, fact: 

WE ARE ALL MORE ALIKE, THAN WE ARE DIFFERENT.

You know what you told me, but you don’t know what the dude behind you told me, so let me clue you in…

…you both told me the same damn thing.

You told me stories of family, stories of faith, stories concerning the future of your children, you spoke of disgust about politics and politicians, and smiled through tales of pride of your congregation.

You were the quarterback, you rode the bench, you were the homecoming queen or at home during the prom, you cut coupons, you sew, you ride the internet for bargains, you bring food home for the elderly neighbors next door.

You want safe streets and a planet that doesn’t kill you.  You buy girl scout cookies, you give to your church and do what you can to help the family in town going through hard times.

You wear suits, you wear blue jeans or overalls, your shoes are shined or your boots are covered in the soil of your farm.

And it dawned on me, that for 30 years I have been covering the stink of America, and completely missed America’s soul.

You.

This series, “My Home Town,” will show you that in America…all over America…there is still a soul…there is still core, shared values.

Family…

Faith…

Freedom…

Raising good kids…

Benevolence towards others…

Equality of ideas, where gender, or race of the brain, doesn’t matter…

Opportunity, where only “want to” matters…

Respect.

Love of country.

I believe, in my soul, that at the fundamental being of most of us, we are truly more alike, than we are different,

and that if we take the time to listen to each other,

to visit with each other,

we will find,

that all around us is the,

Kind in Man.

And it is, The Where, Of We,

that brings us together.

My Home Town:

Locust Fork, Alabama

In the words of Gerald Swindle

“My parents, Tommy and Dell Swindle have been married over 50 years now.  My dad, when my dad, and others like him, are gone, it will be a generation of hard working men, lost.  He lived through the hard times of the Depression, he knew what having nothing feels like, and he is appreciative of having something.

“He taught me that ‘son’ you have to earn respect, don’t just expect it, that hard work is honorable.  He taught me the value of a man’s handshake and a man’s word.  He taught me that if you get knocked down, you don’t stay down, you get up, dust yourself off, and get going again.

“Dad, he also taught me how to treat a woman, he showed me that by how he treated my mom.  He lead by example.  He was/is kind to her, respectful to her, loving to her, and boy, look out if he ever heard we showed disrespect to her, didn’t matter how old or big we were, we got straighten out right quick.

“And my mother, my mother was/is the rock in this family, the backbone of the family.  She is the superglue that held us together, she is the one who when I would get down on myself, start not believing myself, she would always sit down with me, listen to what I had to say, and guide me through what was bothering me.

“Family man, family, can’t imagine where I would be without them.”

“Sacred ground, to me what I’m standing on is sacred ground.  Where I’m standing, this used to be our family farm, back where that blue truck we had 5,000 pepper plants, over there by that other house we had rows and rows and rows of watermelon and beans, I spent several years of my life on a tractor plowing these fields.

“I would go to school, when I was older I would go to work, then come home to the farm here and start working the crops until dark, I learned hundreds of lessons about life while up on that old tractor.

“It’s out here where I learned about hard work, hard work.  Learned to never quit, never question, learned to work as a team with my brothers as we all worked all day picking Okra. On the weekends we would be out here working dawn to dark, we had to, this farm was our livelihood.

“My father always used to tell us, ‘An Idle Mind is the Devil’s Workshop’ and I believe that to be right, he had us working out here all the time, we would work and we would go to school and we would do our homework and play sports, but we would be working, and you know what, I think Dad was right, this field kept me out of a lot of trouble, sacred ground this is.”

“Meet my babysitter.  Whenever I did have any free time, I would jump on my bicycle and ride down to my friend Todd Bakers house and we would go fishing in the pond in his back yard.

“This was my Disneyworld, right here.  It was like an ocean to two young boys, can’t tell you how much I fished this pound with Todd, it was the first pond I ever fished, and boy did we fish it, I think I caught every fish in it three times.

“It was like a nursery for our parents, they knew we would come down here, and never leave until they called for us or it got to dark to fish.  We would fish and fish but we only had one lure each so when that lure got hung up, if we just let it go we would be done fishing, so we would quickly strip down, take all our clothes off and jump in naked and get our lure back, then run back up on shore get all our clothes back on and start fishing again.  Had to go in skinny dippin’ because if our parents saw our clothes were wet we would be in big trouble.”

“This was my BassPro Shop.  Marsh’s country store.  I would check for money in couches, in and under the bench seat of my father’s truck, pick up pennies in the street, and when I had me $1.99, Todd and I would jump on our bikes and ride down here to buy us a brand new Rapala Jerkbait for our Zebco 33’s.

“We would drop our bikes right by the porch, run in, the wood doors would bang shut, we would run down the wood floors to this glass case of lures.

“Dan, the owner, always wore LIBERTY overalls and sold pretty much anything you would need in the store, we would look and gawk at the lures in that case, and then after much deliberation pick out just the right lure, give Dan our $1.99, jump back on our bikes and peddle as fast as we could back to the pound and stay there until dark just throwin’ the you know what out of that lure.

“Yep right here is where I bought the first lure of my life.  Couple blocks from here is where I caught my first fish with Todd, bought my first lure here, it all started right here.”

“My graduating class had 87 students, back then there couldn’t have been more that 500 people living in town.  I went from Elementary through High School right here.

“I was pretty much a “C” student, pretty average, but I had this one teacher, Mr. Moss, an English teacher, he was a pretty eccentric kind of guy, but he had this way of teaching that you would learn stuff even if you didn’t want to.  Learned a lot from him even though at the time I didn’t know it.

“We used to get biblically beat in football, I mean scores like 55-7, 48-0, in my senior year we won just one game.

“I played all three sports but we had such a small school we would only have 18-19 guys on the football team and one of those guys couldn’t play no how.  But we would play schools that had 65 to 70 guys on the team.  They took a bus to get here, we could almost take our team to away games in just a couple of cars.

“But we were just old country kids that would never give up, we knew we were going to get the snot pounded out of us, but we weren’t going to let our parents down, our town down, we would never give up, no quit in us no matter what the score.

“The lessons I have learned on this field have stayed with me for life, will stay with me until the day I die, that you never give up, you keep going no matter what, and when you are a team you depend on each other and that other guy, he makes you stronger, and you make him stronger, you may have lost on the field but if you didn’t quit, you still gave it everything you had, if you believe in yourself, you a winner inside.”

“I remember watching my helmet shoot off my head and fly up into the air.  I’ll never forget this spot on this field, right where I’m standing I got clobbered by the Safety on the other team, broke my jaw right on this spot.

“I was the running back, it was the homecoming game, I was about to cross the goal line and out of nowhere this guy comes and just clobbers me.  I’m laying on the field and everyone comes over and they want to take my mouth piece out and I’m saying no…no…no…don’t touch it…I could feel that biting down on it kept everything in place, kept the bone in place, it hurt like hell…

“…but I never came out of the game.  When I was about to get hit I just tried to make sure the other side of my head would take the blow, not the hurt side, so I would be leaning in all awkward, but it didn’t hurt as much that way.”

“Many days before school, I would stand right here on this rock and fish until the last possible second then climb on my bicycle and head the mile or so to school.

“It’s here where I learned how to read rivers, I would cross this river on this bridge everyday of my life, I got to learn the subtleness of the current, watched how the fish used the river, learned to read the color of the water standing right here.

“In the summertime I would come down here with my dad, we’d have these two inner tube floats and we would climb in right here and float down the river fishing, after a couple of hours my mother would bring the truck and meet us down river and take us home.  It was always a great day, but even greater when we had fish we could bring home to eat.”

“My first job was right here, this boat ramp, I was 15 years old and I worked seven days a week all summer launching boats…

“…I made $22 a day, saved every dime and bought me an old used truck for $800.00…the truck didn’t have any bumpers, didn’t have any color either ‘cept it was painted in all primer, but I bought my first vehicle with the money I made off my first job.”

“My brother, Tony, died from Pancreatic Cancer in 2008.

“This is full circle for me, my brother is buried basically across the street from where my parents live, where we started out today, I’ll probably be buried here as well.  Tony was my fishing partner, he was my biggest fan.  I just loved to fish with my brother.

“He taught me to laugh, we need to laugh, we need to live and laugh every day we are alive.”

“You see those dates under his name, April 3, 1965 – March 14, 2008…what’s important about those date is not the month or the dates, what’s important there is the dash in between, the time between those dates.

“Life is what you do with the dash in between, you live life in that dash.  Tony taught me it’s what’s in between the beginning of your life and the end of your life that’s important.  Enjoy yourself, laugh, love, live life to it’s fullest, but laugh, everyday you don’t laugh is a wasted day.

“Before every tournament Tony would tell me to ‘fish like it’s your last tournament,’ he believed in me.”

“…yeah, I can be myself here in this small town…”

The Where, of We, the where of Gerald Swindle.

I didn’t ask Gerald to take me to any of the places he did, I just told him, “Take me to your home town, show me around,” and he took me where I think you would take me, where I would take you.

To meet my parents.

To see where I played as a child.

To see where I grew up, my school, my first job, each packed with memories and lessons of life.

Every stop I would make would be because that stop would be at the core of what I am today.

Same core values.

Between us.

It is The Where, Of We, and it is what binds us, the locations will change, the photos will change, some places will be nicer than others, some bigger than others, some smaller, but at every stop of “My Home Town,” you will get a glimpse into the soul of the person taking you on the tour.

And along the way, I promise you something magical will happen,

you will see,

that you and me,

them and us,

we,

We The People…

…down deep inside…

…in the eyes we see in the mirror…

…are more alike than we are different.

Because in all of us,

was placed,

the Kind,

in Man.

“…and people let me be just what I want to be.”

Small Town

John Mellencamp

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