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)


14 Replies to “Over The River And Through The Woods”

  1. Great memories, Alan! (I was expecting Orville to try and say the “dog” followed him home!) And a perfect closing.
    When you mention “Christmas,” different people think of different things, but one said it makes her think of God the Father, standing in heaven’s doorway, waving goodbye to His Son. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A great woven love story with a very colorful uncle. I had a couple of uncles like that (and a couple of brothers)
    I have oft pondered Christ’s willingness to leave the throne to take human form. “I’m going to take you with me” kinda love.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: