By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Despite technological advances and ecological efforts, the U.S. Post Office has some security in the volume of paper work that arrives in my mailbox each week. The monthly bills from utilities, sales papers, doctor statements, insurance statements, bank statements and other recyclables have a constant flow into my house.
I’ve often said that were it not for these never-ending papers demanding the largest portion of the household income each month, I could live fairly well in today’s downtrodden economical slump. I recall advising my children, their friends and acquaintances during their teen years not to be in a hurry to grow up because the concept of “doing what I want” never achieves quite the status as it did during the bill-free years of adolescence.
Bills have always had a role in my life, however. I have had Bills since I was 3 and a half years old.
The first was Bill Hedrick, my mother’s first cousin and next door neighbor when my mother and I moved in with my grandmother when my military father was sent to Korea. Since neither Mom nor Mammaw drove, Bill and his wife Dessie were our transportation everywhere, except when some other family member visited and provided the ride.
Bill and Dessie were my “second parents,” especially after Mom and my dad separated and divorced. I grew up with their children and spent many, many hours playing in their woods with their kids and other cousins. We built mazes in hay stored in the barn loft, made trails through the woods, and even conducted a funeral complete with preaching, praying and crying when Mark’s dog died. There is no room in a column space to recite all the memories of this family, but some of my most vivid and cherished memories are of Bill Hedrick sitting in the church pew, belting out that strong bass during the singing service, holding his hand over his left ear to make sure he was blending in tune with the remainder of the congregational singing. Our childhood days of exploring the woods were highlighted by his warnings of “Don’t kill any dead snakes” and “Don’t wade in any dry creeks” — a prime example of his keen but dry sense of humor.
Along with Bill Hedrick came another Bill — Bill Burke. A Sunday School teacher and deacon at Sinking Creek Baptist Church, we delighted in the occasions when Bill Burke would bring his guitar to church and sing. He didn’t have the greatest voice or musical instrumental skill, perhaps, but we loved to hear him. He always had a comical comment and just a brief conversation with him usually brought a laugh or smile.
Another prominent Bill in my life was Bill Barrett, a unique human being whose legacy challenges stiff competition. Bill Barrett had a heart of gold and a personality to match. He was dedicated to visiting in the community and helped many organizations with his volunteer work, taking food and supplies to foster home children, helping people in the community, and just being a good person. Bill and I both celebrated May birthdays and in my early years, we always got to go up front in the church while the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to us. He was my bus driver and would offer quarters for every “A” on our report card. Denise Jones (now Farris) and I had an avid competition for who collected the most quarters, and we probably gave Bill Barrett a run for his money in that respect.
Another Bill that has played a prominent role in my life is Bill Miller, my mother’s first cousin on the maternal side. Bill pastored our church, had kids my age, and has always been there for his family and friends who needed him. I can always call on Bill for help, to listen, to care, and am always greeted with a big hug when I see him. His influence cannot be detailed in a column, but his life is described by love for God and love for family.
Bill Miller is the remaining “Bill” in my life at this point, as the others have long since passed away. Their human bodies may be gone from this Earth, but their memories are cherished ones in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved them.
I feel fortunate to have had these “Bills” in my life and relish in the memories that made them so special.
And I guarantee, I greeted each one of them with a lot more favorable reaction than I do with the bills I get now.