If you know Billy, then you have a “Billy story.” Just one?! Right. More likely it’s “Where do I even start?” One of my earliest recollections of Billy was back when my age was still in single digits. He was the kid in our backyard that my brothers and I were staring at like Who IS this guy? That kid running around barefoot, ignoring the very real possibility of pygmy rattlers, fire ants, and sand spurs. We were the cautious ones in shoes and knee high 70’s socks, and Billy was the one racing like the wind and throwing caution to it.
He carried that fearless and carefree spirit with him into the huge world outside our backyard. If you know him, you know that. As I reached my early teens, Billy was a few years ahead of me. My parents being the cautious types (See: shoes and socks at all times in Florida), they mostly steered me clear of him. The word rambunctious might have been used. So, for the most part, I only heard the stories, and probably just a fraction of them. Billy liked loud cars with ridiculous horsepower, equally loud, huge, and ridiculous stereos, and things that he could blow up. If there were stunts to be attempted, you didn’t need to dare Billy. That’s why there are so many “Billy stories.”
The first time I rode in Billy’s car, he performed a car-chase-worthy 180-degree spin that made my best friend and fellow passenger yell a word he normally would never say.
In an even more impressive 180-degree turn, Billy matured. Only in the absolutely necessary ways, of course. The real “Billy story” was the person he became. An excellent builder, with amazing technical skills. A loyal and loving husband, son, and brother. Favorite uncle, the crazy one. A reliable friend. A caring, giving, empathetic person. A tireless minister and servant of God, who loved the work, and it showed. He became the kind of Christian that reminds you that it isn’t a bad word when it’s done right. He was an excellent teacher, and he led by example. Billy was the first person to volunteer, to lend a hand, to give encouragement or advice. The last guy you’d ever want to disappoint.
Billy never lost his wacky sense of humor. I can’t count the number of times when in a large noisy group, he would elbow me, catch my eye, lean in, and make a hilarious observation. If you know him, you know that crazy look he’d get, conspiratorial and mischievous, the textbook twinkle in the eye. When you were with Billy, you just knew he was present, paying attention, being a real friend.
I believe that the reputation you build in life is eternal. The name you make not only precedes you, it goes with you always. Billy made himself a great name. Friend of God, friend of mankind, friend of creatures. If you know him, you just read “squirrels” instead of “creatures.” Billy was the Squirrel Guy, protector of countless orphaned critters. His heart was big enough for all of those things without shorting anyone or anything. It all mattered to him, and you couldn’t help but see how much he treasured each of life’s truly important things.
I didn’t begin to know all of the ailments and pains Billy suffered in his lifetime, because that wasn’t who he was. He wanted to know how YOU were doing, what was on YOUR mind, what he could do for YOU. I was shocked when I learned that Billy’s life suddenly passed. Not so much passed as paused. I know he’ll wake up in a world with none of the hurt and hardships, but all of the good things that he treasured. I’m going to try to be more like Billy moving forward. I’ll do my best to remember what the really important things are – and remember to go barefoot once in a while.