Freedom straddles State Road 231 ten miles or so south of Spencer. A couple of churches and a storage building ride the right hand side of the road and a post office, filling station, and boarded up general store ride the left. Houses, mobile homes, and vehicles—from tractors to Toyotas—stretch a block or two in every direction and add a hodge podge of color and shape to this dusty little wide spot in the road. A railroad track draws a straight-lined border to the south and a clear demarcation between Freedom and the west fork of the White River. The 45 mph speed limit sign slows the steady flow of semis and other travelers as we make our way to and from our separate wherevers. Freedom, Indiana.
I drive through Freedom every time I go to Daviess County to visit my husband Bill's family, to Perry County to visit my sister Reta, and to Wabash Valley Prison to visit my friend Phillip. If I've remembered to write a letter or stick some photos in a card for either Phillip or Brandon, another inmate/friend at Wabash that I correspond with, I pull in at the little Freedom Post Office and drop my mail into the big blue mailbox. “Postmarked Freedom.” I smile at the thought of a little bit of Freedom sliding into those prison cells.
The typical green road sign that bears the town name also proudly proclaims Freedom to be the home of “Babe Pierce—Tarzan.” Who would've thought it? A little boy grew up here who claimed his freedom and flew away to become a movie star! That tidbit of history and my monthly trips back and forth through Freedom have been percolating in the songwriting section of my brain for a couple of years. I've actually been “writing down the bones” of the song for over a year to a tune that refused to be forgotten. I sang an almost finished version to Phillip—with Phillip—one afternoon in June this summer. He's an extraordinary songwriter; he and Brandon sing with and for other men in church services there at Wabash on a weekly basis. He made good suggestions for improving the song: leave out a word here, a syllable there; change the rhythm a little here, put more emphasis there. He gave me the beginning two lines of the last verse. And his how-he-lives-his-life inspiration is the heart and soul of the song.
I'm pretty sure it's finally finished—after months and months of passing through Freedom, reading that Tarzan sign, and dutifully checking my own freedom at the front gate of Wabash Valley, walking through the six electronically controlled steel doors, and making my way to Table 9 or Table 11, or whatever table I'm instructed to sit at, to wait for Phillip to emerge from the inner belly of the prison. And now Bill has picked it out on his guitar and we're almost ready to sing it in public. So...that's the story behind the song Postmarked Freedom. Here are the words:
Tarzan used to live here but he moved to Hollywood—
He took freedom for granted and he moved because he could;
He swam in this river before he met Cheetah and Jane—
Before he swung through the jungle singing his Tarzan refrain.
This road I'm driving down takes me through Freedom town—
I mail letters to my friends in prison postmarked Freedom.
There are thousands of men just beyond these Indiana cornfields—
They took freedom for granted, got locked behind doors made of steel;
Some say they're good for nothing, but some of them or nothing but good—
They'd give their tattoos and their gold teeth to be walking through Freedom's hood.
Freedom's a decision that belongs to everyone—
No matter the color of your skin or what you've done;
Swinging through the jungle or locked behind doors made of steel—
In your heart, in your mind, find the time to make freedom real.
Freedom is a hard-bought thing—I've heard it said
And I've read it on the sign beside the VFW;
But if love and compassion is your daily bread and wine—
Freedom doesn't cost a dime!
(Repeat first verse and chorus)
Glenda for the Poplar Grove Muse