“Cause in the swamp I’m surrounded by my old friends…”
He stood in front of me bare chested, was 400 feet tall, wore a straw hat, a red bandana around his neck,
and had a machete in his mouth.
I had just spent several days in the backseat of a 1957 Chevy.
I was 7.
My parents had just driven from Buffalo, NY to Miami, Florida without the help of any Interstates.
It was 5 days on Route 1-S.
The 400 foot tall bare chested machete in the mouth man was now growling at me.
Every other year we would make the trek south to spend Christmas with my Uncle Sandy and Aunt Rita.
Uncle Sandy was a Lieutenant in the Miami Beach Police Department, he was the first person to ever hand me a coconut that wasn’t in a can.
The 400 foot tall bare chested man had a string of teeth around his neck.
The first beach I ever stood on had the Atlantic Ocean attached to it. It was December, I was in white “Clam Diggers,” and sandals, back home my friends were in snowsuits and “Artics” (winter boots).
And suddenly the 400 foot tall bare chested man yelled, “Who goes there,” but…since this was the first time I had ever goed anywhere I didn’t in fact know where it was that I was going, but I did know that in some very short seconds I was going to cry.
I was pretty sure though when the 400 foot tall bare chested man yelled asking where I goes, he didn’t want to hear I was goes to crying.
But I couldn’t run away.
I was standing on this rickety old rope bridge thing (that 40 years later would once again freak me out in Disney’s Wild Kingdom) and I couldn’t turn around because I was about to cry ‘cuse I was afraid of letting go of the ropes.
“WHO GOES THERE!”
That did it, I start wheezing and crying and I cry even harder when I realize my inhaler is probably a million miles away in a snowbank in Buffalo.
“I SAID WHO…”
And the 400 foot tall bare chested man sees me crying and wheezing and maybe just a few moments away from peeing my pants..
“WHO…Donnie, are you Donnie Barone…”
And the 4 ½ foot tall crying, wheezing, possibly peeing in his “Clam Digger” pants boy from Buffalo, tries to hold in some sniffles and the stuff that runs out your nose in a time like this and looks up at the 400 foot tall bare chested man holding a machete and in crying heaves says to the man…
“…that cold dark water…”
The 400 foot bare chested man with the machete in his mouth was named, Glover.
In all the years that I knew him, I never knew his last name, I never asked, he never said.
At our first meeting there when I said “No,” I wasn’t Donnie Barone he suddenly started belly laughing, dropped his machete and reached out onto the rope bridge, picked me up under my arms and gave me a hug bare chested bear hug while laughing all the time, and saying to my Uncle Sandy, who was standing just a foot behind me so I wouldn’t fall, said to Uncle Sandy, “Love this kid…I’m keeping this one.”
And he did, every other year when we went to Florida for Christmas vacation I would spend one week at my Aunt & Uncles home, and one week out in the Everglades with Glover.
Only Glover, and Uncle Sandy knew that at:
Age 9, I was given the stick to my first Air Boat drive.
Age 11, I went on my first Alligator hunt.
Age 13, took my first (and only) gator.
To me, there are only a few magical people, a few magical places on earth, and my dear, now passed, friend Glover, is one, and his home where he lived in a thatched hut without electricity, The Everglades, is another.
Glover took a crying, wheezing, may be peeing kid from the city of Buffalo, NY, and showed me a place on earth that a city kid could never imagine.
To me, the ‘Glades, are sacred ground. I don’t see, Swamps, when I cross the Bayou, I see my friend Glover, and his love for what he only called, “Home.”
So when I went to meet and do a story with T-Roy Broussard, B.A.S.S. Opens Angler, and one of the stars of the History Channel’s hit show, Swamp People, I didn’t care much about him and TV, didn’t care much about him and gators.
What I wanted to know about was him,
TV star or not, had he said the wrong thing to me about swamps I would have shook his hand, wished him luck,
and said goodbye.
Wouldn’t have done the story, even had a couple other stories lined up just in case.
“So Troy, tell me about the swamp.”
“Well db, the marshes, they the basis of all existence here on earth.”
And with that I flipped up my notebook and started to take notes.
“…be running through my veins…”
I told Troy, upfront, “Been in TV for 30 years, left it awhile back, don’t watch it much now, in fact when I’m out on the road, 5, 6, 7 weeks, don’t watch it at all, never turn it on, didn’t even bring a TV with me in the motorhome.”
Did also tell him I did buy an episode of his show on iTunes, watched it for awhile, told him, “I got it,” but wanted to know more about him, not the show. I know how TV shows work.
“db, the show, that’s just one part of me, but the parts that I’m the most proud of, I’m a Christian man, a husband, a father to a sweet young daughter, and a career 23 year fireman, a Captain in the Port Arthur, Texas Fire Department.”
We talk some, we are now sitting in his 5th wheel, I’m on his couch, he’s standing in the kitchen baiting and fishing poles are all over the place, I notice that whenever he talks of the swamp, he never calls it that, he always calls it…
“…marshes…I grew up in the marsh, when I was 6 weeks old my mother took me on my first airboat ride. We always had camps in the marsh, by the time I was 6 or 7 years old my parents would bring me down to the dock, put me in my boat with a little 4hp engine and off I would go fishing all day by myself. My entire being revolves around the marsh.”
Glover would like this guy.
“…the only place that makes me feel this way…”
Glover was killed in a car accident, and for various reasons, I didn’t go on family vacations as I got older, but I remember the last time we hung around together, the last meaningful talk we ever had.
I parked the airboat on a tiny island of grass, Glover was walking around on it looking for a snake, “My belt broke, need a knew one.”
With snake in hand he stepped back on the boat, stuffed it in a sack and sat down in the front part of the boat and looked up at me in the seat. “Donnie, where you live up there in Buffalo do you get to see sunsets with all them buildings…”
I just smiled as behind Glover the sun was setting somewhere in the Gulf a couple of hundred miles behind him. I got his point.
And now, 50 years later, Troy is talking about sunset in a marsh, “I go out by myself in the marsh, no buildings, no cars, no nothing, and I just sit there in my boat and wait and watch as God blows the candle out on the day.”
It was Glover who taught me how to listen to the, silence. It was Glover who taught me how to taste, air. It was Glover who taught me how to see everything that was, invisible.
“db, mankind needs to take care of the marshes, the marshes were here long before us, and will be here long after we are gone, they protect us, they take the brunt of the storms, weaken them for us, we need to cherish them.”
I knew a guy who did.
“…in the swamp…”
“So Troy, what are you doing here, fishing this Open.”
“db, it is my dream, my dream to become an Elite angler, I’ll miss the first week of shooting for next season’s Swamp People because I told them I won’t be there, going to be fishing the Central Open on the Arkansas River to see if I can make the tour.”
Troy is 43 years old, fished the first Central Open on Amistad, “It was my honor to hold a stick and fish with some of the best in the world, and, and I came in 10th.”
And then he said something that, in my mind, was solid, was something Glover would always talk about, “ain’t nothing no good if it is handed to you.”
“db, this is a dream, but you know what, there is something about EARNING your way on to the tour, ain’t no one giving you a pass, giving me a pass because I’m on some TV show. To me, me earning my right to be here means so much more if I make it.”
And if he gets the call.
“I’ll go…er…wait…I’ll sit down and talk about it with my wife, but she knows how much I love this, will pretty much tell you I’m a professional angler RIGHT NOW by how much I fish, but if I earn my right to be here, I’ll come a runnin’.”
Several years after Glover died I was in Florida and rode my motorcycle over to the site of Glover’s old camp, his “Home.” The place looked to be own by someone new and was beginning to be developed, the vestiges of the old rope bridge was all that remained.
I sat leaning back on the chopped Bonneville, feet up through the handle bars and I watched as Troy said, “God blow out the candle of the day.”
For Glover I heard the silence, tasted the air, saw the invisible and left behind on the rope bridge a bent up instamatic camera color photo.
All I wrote on the back was just a simple, “To Glover, Thank You, Love & Miss You, Donnie.”
And I jumped on the kick start, hit the throttle and blasted down the road.
Don’t know if the new owners ever found the photo or not, I’m pretty sure they heard me leave, but if they found the photo and read the inscription and turned the it around,
all the would see,
a photo I took when I was 13,
with Dad’s camera,
of a Buffalo,
“…that’s where I’m bound.”
Bound To The Swamp
Good Luck, Troy…miss you Glov,