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Flights with Jackie Windham expand perspective

Certain individuals seem to embody what it means to be Elba. I have been blessed to find one of them in Jackie Windham. He has helped me understand the world through his perspective.

I first met Windham when I went to buy a pair of gardening gloves from Windham Lumber, his business that offers both lumber and a wide range of hardware. He perked up when I mentioned I was with Living Democracy and applauded me on seeking a new perspective

Our encounter was brief, but he mentioned something that caught my attention when he brought up his passion for flight. He invited me to come out one day and fly with him, and I left my number for whenever that day came.

Windham said he loves sharing his passion for flying with younger people.  He said, "It's been something that I've loved doing, and seeing a smile on those faces is worth a thousand dollars sharing the thrill with them."

When I joined Windham for the first flight, it was absolutely incredible. From the air, he showed off the gorgeous landscape of Coffee County, especially the abundance of trees in the area.

When you're traveling down the roads, you can only catch a glimpse of the country. But, from far above, you get a whole different view. Our flight lasted about 45 minutes, with Windham pointing out local landmarks and commenting on areas that had changed over the years.

I learned that he stayed home in Elba to help his father with his business. "My daddy told me to come work for him.  He needed help and said he could pay good. The help came, but the pay never did," Windham said with a laugh.

"Later on, when he passed on the mill to me, it paid off, helping give my wife and kids a good life and letting me have some fun." Part of that fun is flying and restoring planes.

“Honey” is the yellow World War II trainer plane that he purchased in 2002.  He then worked to rebuild the entire plane, breathing new life into this piece of history.

On my second flight with Windham, we took Honey out. The plane has no door or window on the right side. Windham said it's like riding a bike above the Earth. I agreed as we coasted above the Elba Dam.  

The flights are incredible, but the conversations I have with Windham make the trips even better. He is curious about the world, seeking out the answers wherever he can find him. One moment, he's asking me to find out what a negative interest rate is because he heard about it being used overseas. The next, he's offering a narrative and a pop quiz about the role of the Civilian Conservation Corp in South Alabama. It makes for a fascinating time, one when I am continually thinking and learning.

"I like to do what I do, and it's worked well so far," Windham said. "I've been able to fulfill my number one job, providing for the wife and kids. I've got a great church that I enjoy going to, and I love the ability this country has given me to do these things."

The "Living Democracy" tag is something that excites Windham and for a good reason. He is passionate about the American Dream, especially the ability to work and see the benefits of it.

Windham urged me to keep working and studying hard, stressing the benefit of practical knowledge, from changing a tire to fixing up an airplane.  He explained he is concerned we are too dependent on technology to give us easy answers to hard problems.

Windham is a student of American history, knowing intimately the journey our country has taken. In a world where, all too often, the young ignore the elders and the elders believe the next generation is hopeless, Windham simply offers wisdom to those who might take it.

In multiple ways this summer, he has challenged my perception of the world. I saw Alabama from above and was amazed at the raw nature. I saw the challenges and benefits of the small-town lifestyle and how you can use it to make the life you want.

I saw how important it is to listen to the people who have actually lived through issues instead of trying to interpret them from our own view. We all could use a little more of Windham’s faith, more of his passion for molding the world and not letting it mold you. He inspired me to pay attention and gave me hope that we can come together to solve our problems.

Tags: Elba

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