Over The River And Through The Woods

“But I would walk 500 miles,
And I would walk 500 more,
Just to be the man walks a thousand miles,
To fall down at your door”
(1988) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” Recorded By: The Proclaimers Composers: Craig and Charlie Reid

Ella: No! We are staying here for Thanksgiving!

Orville: But, Mama! I miss her!

Ella: Not another word about it, young man! They’ll have their Thanksgiving, and we’ll have ours, right here! Now, go wash up before I blister your bottom!.

That’s how I project the row between my Great-Uncle Orville, and his mom, Ella, my Great Grandmother Swindell. I knew them both as older people, and I figured if I were to write a script based on the bout they had, that would be about the size of it. One thing is for sure…it was loud.

Because no one is living who was there, and the next generation can no longer recall, I have to piece together what took place. Hang in here with me. I will tell you the facts as I know them.

It would’ve been Thanksgiving week of 1938. My grandmother, Opal and her little brother, Orville, were best friends. Although he was about five years her junior, they were tight all through their growing up years, and beyond.

Photo: 1930 Opal and Orville

The Swindell’s had been living in and around the Wolfe City, and Greenville, Texas area. Opal and Orville were the only children born to Ella and Claude. Claude was a true Jack-Of-All-Trades, but the family spent much of their days as sharecroppers. Because of the nature of a sharecropper life, there were times the family lived on the road, out of the back of a truck, unless the crops just happen to be situated near their actual house. At some point, an opportunity arose in the Ft Worth area and off they went to live where the work was.

Back in the Wolfe City, Texas area, the move didn’t sit well with my granddad, Martin Atherton, who was Opal’s one and only boyfriend in school. The distance was too far for the young lovers, and there was only one telephone located in a general store, and THAT was what we once referred to as long distance. ($$$) The young couple made the decision to get married as a solution to the heartbreaking problem. So, they hitched-up, July of 1938.

Photos: (Top) 1938. My grandmother in her wedding dress. (Bottom) My grandparents in a photo booth, around 1937.

But, poor Orville was feeling lost in a new town without his big sister. Yet, Greenville, Texas, where the newlyweds resided, was about 80 miles away as the crow flies.

Fast forward to November of ’38, when 12 year old Orville petitioned his folks to travel to Greenville to have Thanksgiving with Opal and her husband. After all, he missed his sis terribly, and never had a holiday without her. Here I must say that I don’t know just what the issue was. It very well could’ve been the Swindell’s wallet was still thin from the recent move, or Orville’s dad couldn’t take off from whatever job he landed at the time. Either way, the answer was, “No”.

Before I move on to the meat of this event, let me warn you that Orville was a real pistol. They called him, “Whistle” due to the thick fabric of his overalls making a chaffing sound between his legs because he was always running from here to there. He was a bit on the hyperactive side, although that’s not what they called it back then. He was also a tough kid. He loved sneaking upon unsuspecting cows and horses in order to jump on their backs for a ride. It didn’t always go so well. He enjoyed leaping off the roofs of houses and barns which often didn’t go so well. One day, while hunting, he tackled a very unhappy dog out in the woods, brought him home to keep him as a pet, fighting him all the way. When he arrived to show his parents, Orville was scratched and bitten all over, still holding the growling, restless ornery dog in an armlock. “Look Mama! He’s my new pal!” Ella was beside herself, and furious. Standing there in her kitchen was her bloody son holding a very disgruntled…coyote! That too, didn’t go so well.

Later in the night, after the disappointing news concerning Thanksgiving in Ft Worth, he couldn’t sleep much as his mind was going in circles on how he could relieve his rebellious itch. After a while, he figured out a plan.

Early the next morning, still steaming from the argument with his mom, he slowly, covertly got out of bed, quietly leaving the house, then grabbed his bicycle and headed east for Greenville in the predawn hours.

Keep in mind, this was before the interstates and tollways. Which part of Ft Worth is unknown, but it was much smaller in the 1930’s than the metropolis it is today. I am unclear the route he took, but I assume it was the same route he was familiar with from the move earlier in the year. I imagine this would be small state highways, farm-to-market roads, etc. Much of the county roads back in those days were not paved. Today, directions from Greenville to Ft Worth takes you on interstates and the George Bush Tollway, about a 90 mile jaunt. Google tells me an athletic cyclist could figure an 8 hour ride. However, Orville’s bike would not have had the luxury of multiple gears. The 12 year old boy would have travelled through some small towns, on dirt roads, and one lane state highways. Looking at the old routes, cutting across what is now the northern suburbs of Dallas, I believe his trip would have been around 80+ miles, taking approximately 9-10 hours, given the journey and the old bicycle.

Imagine the shock on Opal’s face when her worn out little brother comes coasting up to her front door. From what I was told as a kid, he was hungry, exhausted, and cold.

According to my Uncle Orville’s story, he made the trip without stopping. However, knowing what a card he was, that could be a stretch of his actual experience. In fact, I have wondered if some poor trucker saw him and offered him a lift, saving him a few miles. But, only God really knows. I do know my granddad and grandmother drove him back to Ft Worth themselves.

My mind also wonders about the thrashing he might have received when he finally made it back to Ft Worth. I am sure Ella and Claude were fit to be tied.

Later, Orville’s bent pulled him into the cowboy world. He lived his life breaking horses for a living, and keeping up a ranch of his own. The rodeo circuit was also part of his life for many years. He broke dozens of bones in the process. It didn’t always go so well. I don’t believe I ever saw him not wearing cowboy boots. His perpetual youth always amazed me, even in his elderly years. He was funny, witty, always smiling and laughing. . One Thanksgiving at my grandparents house back in the early 70’s, while watching the Dallas cowboys play a nail-biter of a game, just as they squeaked out a win, he jumped off the couch, dove head-first over the coffee table, ending in a standing position after somersaulting across the living room floor yelling a cheer all the way. He was in his upper 40’s at the time. Yep, that was my Uncle Orville.

If someone were to ask me what I loved most about the man, it would be how much he adored his big sister, Opal, my grandmother. Everyone did.

Photo: (2006) Orville “Whistle” Swindell and his sis, Opal Atherton.

Uncle “Whistle” Orville Swindell went on another lengthy journey just about five years ago for his heavenly home. With all certainty, I know my grandmother was waiting for him at the gates. I can only imagine the reunion.

With the Christmas season coming up, I couldn’t help but think of someone else who left his secure home to travel a great distance to be with the ones He loved. A king, leaving a throne where He was praised, worshipped, and adored continually. He left it all for a tough, rugged, humble existence here on our turf. Jesus so loved us that much to make the trip so that we might make the choice to be with him where He is today.

Most believe the final journey isn’t all that far. Check out the map in fuel for the race.

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:3-4 (Amplified Bible)


The Sound Was Happenin’

Like a lazy flowing river,
Surrounding castles in the sky.
And the crowd is growing bigger,
Listening for the happy sounds,
And I got to let them fly.”
(1972) “Listen To The Music” Recorded By: Doobie Brothers Composer: Tom Johnston

Remarkable, isn’t it? Music has the ability to awaken memory banks which have been on pause for decades. Just a riff from a guitar, a tinkling of the keyboard, or a certain downbeat of percussion, and ZAP…you remember all sorts of scenes from when that song pierced your young ears. Test yourself sometime. Suddenly places, people, jobs, schools, loves, all come flooding back. Music truly is a computer file wrapped up in rhythm, rhyme and harmonies.

I must say, many tunes bring back such a place…and such a man.

Carrollton, Texas, my hometown, a northern suburb of Dallas, was much smaller in the 1970’s when I was a teenager. (I have written about our town in others posts.) In 1972, when indoor malls were new, and in vogue, or just being built, we shopped the various shopping center strips of the area. Before I discovered the gigantic record stores like, Sound Warehouse, Peaches, Tower Records, Rhino Records, or even the record section at Sears, here in our community we had, The Happening Sound Shop.

Nestled in the Carrollton Park Shopping Center strip, was a fairly small storefront, an authentic mom & pop retailer of everything in sound (music). Times have changed things a bit with tenants, retailers and renovations, but this is what a section of it looks like today.

Photo: The Happening Sound Shop was located in this small section of the shopping center strip, right around where the blue sign is.

Bill Allen was the owner. Not much is known about his earlier days, with the exception of being a manager of a production facility. For reasons that are unknown, in 1972, he left watching over assembly-line workers and opened up a record store. His vision grew with the addition of stereos, headphones, amps, guitars, CB’s (popular in the early to mid 1970’s), and other accessories. To further the customer’s opportunities, he opened up little semi-soundproof rehearsal booths in the back of the store, as well as guitar lessons from private music teachers.

Photo: NS yearbook ad. Bill Allen made sure there was a wide selection for every wallet, long before The Guitar Center.

With all his inventory of various products for the ear, the little shop became a bit crowded. But that was okay for those of us who lived just around the corner. In fact, our high school in the 1970’s was only about 200 yards away. It was perfect for a quick dash to Happening Sound at the lunch hour. THAT was terrific marketing from Bill Allen himself. Then in August of 1978, a second high school opened in north Carrollton, and Bill Allen made sure his shop was well known on the new campus.

Photo: Carrollton Chronical. 1977, Bill Allen at the counter taking orders for Elvis’ new project after his death at Graceland. The line was lengthy.

Growing up in our expanding community I doubt there would be one person in the 1970’s who didn’t frequent The Happing Sound Shop at one time or another. Many of us were there often. Bill Allen introduced us to the music we were hearing on the radio with his assorted stacks of wax.

Photo: RLT Yearbook. Two friends from my high school days in one of the many ads for Happening Sound Shop.

Bill knew where to put his advertising dollars. He had ads in the school papers, the playbills of many theatrical productions from the various schools, sporting evets and programs, and local newspapers published in Carrollton, and the neighboring suburb of Farmer’s Branch. He invested in the ISD of our community, as well as the young lives coming up. He had Happening Sound Shop, with the phone number, etched on all the guitar picks he sold. Many still have them to this very day. It’s been said he would mark down a price if a kid was short on cash. It was noticed. In 1983, even Billboard Magazine wrote an article on Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. The title of the article, “How One Texas Store Survives”.

As technology grew, so did Happening Sound Shop. Bill Allen stacked up the vinyl albums to the walls, always displaying the latest singles available on the old 45’s. Then came the 8-track tape cartages and players, then the cassette decks segued in the mix in the late 70’s and early 80’s, leading up to building shelves for something called, CD’s. He saw it all.

Photo: From Facebook Happening Sound Shop fan page. There are some mementos us older folks still carry in our wallets.

Bill Allen was an unusual retailer in several ways. He was witty, very quick with words, and humorous chatter. He had a gift of gab that could’ve landed him a radio talk show. The man understood how relationships, and filling needs, kept the clientele coming back.

One odd manifestation of such tools was his incredible ability, or the knack, to come up with nicknames for whoever walked through the door of his shop. With the forever cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, he would see me open the door and would greet me with, “Well, hello Curly!” Others, like my wife, had other nicknames. When he would see her he would shout out, “There’s little Red!” (She’s a ginger.) Other nicknames of note, “How’s it goin’ there, Sugga Booga?” “Come on in, Gold Dust!” “There’s old, Silver Queen!” “I do believe it’s John Wayne comin’ through the door!” “Hey, it’s the Golden Knight himself” “How’s it runnin’, Daisy Jane?” Then you could always expect some creative statement at the cash register. “That’ll be, $239.00 today, Cactus Eater.” (The price was $2.39.) Or, “Here’s ‘er change back, Raggedy Ann. Just like McDonald’s”. “Well, Humdinger, your bail sits at $4.99 even.” One of my favorites was when he sold me Barry Manilow’s latest LP, the comment at the counter was, “Well, Curly, how ’bout fries with that?” He had an amazing memory to be able to keep up with the names used for the customers, especially with the changes as we were growing up and hitting puberty. What a guy!

One final comment on the nickname subject. Our fine arts departments in the ISD were well known for our annual musical productions. In February of ’78, I took on the role of Johnny Brown (Molly’s husband) in, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” production at our high school.

Photo: Carrollton Chronicle, Feb 1978. Me as Johnny (JJ) Brown.

Someone had asked Bill Allen if he would place our promo ad poster in his store window a month before opening night. He did, as he did each year for major high school productions. After the run of shows, from that point on, he called me, “Mr. Uptown Brown”. What’s funny is that’s also my real last name. I don’t think he ever knew it.

You may be wondering why I would write about a small record shop and its owner’s quirky ways from 1972 and onward. My answer would simply be, ask us locals, now with whiter hair with pictures of our grandkids on the fridge and arthritic knuckles. Today there is a Happening Sound Shop fan page on Facebook. No surprise. Tons of people write of their solid memories of Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. People, who were touched in a personal way from childhood by a place, a man, and his love for community.

If you should scroll through the fan page, the string of admiration is clear. The comments go on and on about the man, and the place we all knew to be a shop where no matter what was up in our lives, we felt loved. Bill Allen really cared, without judgements, without slanted favor. When available, many post old photos of the place, Bill, and the old storefront. And for those of us who have moved away from the area, who had touchpoints with Bill Allen and his shop, have carried the precious memories with them. Moreover, they, we, have carried Bill Allen and his kindness in our hearts. In a way, one might say he taught us a bit how to love, be civil, and serve with a joy not often found in modern times.

After diving into theology in my 20’s, I discovered some of Bill Allen’s attributes found in Jesus and His teachings. To serve, not be served. To love, even if you know you may not be loved back. To reach out to the lowly, the poor, the young. To lift up, not to pull down. To invest in lives around yourself, and not store up for self. Call me quirky if you want, but I also see another trait. I see personal recognition, regardless of one’s status in society. Jesus spoke of it often. Scripture says He even named the stars, each and every one. He said His flock knows his voice. He knows each of us, individually, by a special name.

Bill Allen wasn’t wealthy. His mark-ups were never unreasonable, even during the inflation years of the 70’s. Bill Allen set up sales racks, marked down to where any of us could afford what was there. When he saw a customer who was needy, he would point out his depreciated items with a helping hand. He lived a life which left behind a great legacy.

Photo: One of the last pictures known of Bill Allen from around 1993.

Bill Allen’s cigarette habit closed in on him. He was diagnosed with cancer, and it took him quickly. His daughter made the attempt to keep Happening Sound Shop going after her father’s death, but in the end she felt it was truly his baby and could not survive without him. Several months after his death, Happening Sound Shop closed its doors for good in 1994. It was a sad day when the sound ceased to happen.

For a 22 year span, Happening Sound Shop was a bright star, not only for our community of music lovers in general, but to the masses of impressionable young people from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s.

Who knows you by name? Find out in fuel for the race, Sugarfoot.

“‘…To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows except the one who receives it.’” – Rev 2:17b (NAS)

Choosing…A Powerful Act

“Let freedom ring.
May the love of freedom always ring.
It has brought us this far.
It proclaims who we are.
And together we sing, let freedom ring
.” – “Let Freedom Ring” Recorded By: Barry Manilow

We, the American public, stand on rather solid, large shoulders. On America’s Election Day, we remember.

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate” – Thomas Jefferson

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato

“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” – JFK

“The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls.” – Peggy Noonan

 “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“(It is) indispensably necessary to save our country from ruin.… I give my assent to the Constitution in full confidence .” – John Handcock

“There are elections in which everyone knows that ‘the people have spoken’ but they don’t always know exactly what the people have said. This November’s election was different. Not only did the people speak, they spoke clearly.” – Kay Baily Hutchison

I write this on the Saturday prior to America’s midterm Election Day, 2022. Obviously, not knowing the election results at this time, I am confident that the citizens of this nation will rise up and speak their will at the polls. No doubt, there will be some run-offs, and ballot counting controversies, as well as, some states (those who allow such struggles and drama) unable to tally all the returns in a 24 hour block of time. In the end, we can pray all projections will be fair, without fraud, and timely.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

No matter the party affiliation, or whims of political debate, most Americans want what they feel is the best for the country during the days at the ballot box. If I were to mention a hue of caution, it would be my hope in relying on this great nation to vote from the heart, and not the talking heads. With the swirl of lies spewed out from various political players (starting at the very top), the media, and the candidates themselves, one can certainly drown in misinformation, or tunnel vision. Misinformation was the original trap in Eden, and tunnel vision is very much what snaps the trap over the neck of the mouse.

We have seen the polls showing the list of concerns the nation faces in this election cycle. Topping the list tends to be, economics, crime, public school curriculum, immigration (border control). It’s shocking to me to find some other residual topics ranking top of mind for some before personal financial, or physical survival. A great example would be to choose homelessness, or whether or not one can afford sufficient food and fuel for themselves, or their families, over late term abortion rights from Washington vs the voting decision of each individual state. To me, this reeks of not having a clear view of national neglect, allowing America to sink into a weak, needy nation.

The founding fathers were very clear on this point. In order for a people to have rights, the people must have a majority electoral system where the people choose for themselves collectively. Election Day is for the will of the people, not the few, or the selected, the elite, or the loudest. The puppet masters, holding their strings, who sit in their ivory towers can only watch and weep. WE THE PEOPLE rule here!

Election is not a new thing. In a mysterious fashion, God Himself elects His own. Volumes have been written about this unexplainable phenomenon in which only The Great I AM fully understands, but for now, we can only acknowledge that it is true, alongside freewill. The billions who have come to faith in Jesus can only be humbled by the thought that they were chosen before the foundation of the world. Again, it’s a complex truth coming directly from God’s infinite mind and heart. We know this because it was placed in scripture so we would get a taste of His love for fallen humanity. Still, “Whosoever will may come” is written in red.

Choosing is a very powerful act, indeed.

It is a bold statement of truth to say if one does not vote, that one has surrendered. And that’s not America.

Come and find your name on God’s ballot in fuel for the race.

“You did not chose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and you should bear fruit, and your fruit should remain, so that whatever you might ask the Father in My name, He may give you. “ – Jesus – John 15:16 (Berean Literal Bible)