Introducing Bill and Howard

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, March 23, 2017

I want to introduce you to a couple of my geezer “friends of long standing:” Bill Booker and Howard Williams. Bill complained when I was peddling my first book, “A Boy in the Amen Corner,” that “you have not mentioned ME, and I WAS THERE!” And so he was . . .

Bill was working at Tryon Builders Supply the summer that I worked there, between my junior and senior years at Tryon High School in 1946. He was one of the crew that got new wood to the planer, run by Collier “Preacher” Goodlet, and then put the wood into the bins after it was made into dimension lumber by the planer.

Bill subsequently worked with another friend, the late John Earl Henson, as they hauled stuff hither and yon in various trucks. Bill also worked for “Red” Newman, driving his trucks along with my brother, also called Bill.

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Booker now takes his wife Johnnie Mae to the hospital to work whenever the surgical suite is in operation, sometimes on Saturday. Then he comes on over to McDonald’s for his breakfast of oatmeal. There he regales our fellow geezers with his colorful stories.

One day when I stopped by Tryon Federal (I like to visit with Nancy Hayes and Rita Plumley there!) I spotted Bill parked nearby. When I went over to visit with him, commenting on his fine chariot, he grinned and said it belonged to Johnnie Mae—he was “just her driver.” He still gets to “drive the truck,” as the TV commercial used to say . . .

I’d like to mention another geezer friend who shares his short stories and folksy sayings with our group. Howard Williams is one of a multitude of descendants of “Old Bill Williams,” the renowned “mountain man” immortalized on a historic marker sign that now stands near the courthouse in Columbus. When I showed Howard a photo of the statue of Old Bill in Arizona that I had struggled through a foot of snow to get, he said that he had seen it. Howard is well traveled, unlike so many that have “never been out of Polk County.”

He has also worked a lot of jobs, often as a skilled machinist. He is thus knowledgeable about metallurgical things that this engineer can discuss with him. He is also savvy about human nature and politics. He once commented that a person registered as an Independent is “just a Republican who doesn’t want to admit it.” He will also refer to other characters as being members of the [surname] “crowd.”

Howard is a Marine, faithfully attending the gatherings of Marines in Henderson County. Yes, he left active duty many years ago, but as they all insist, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” My late uncle, Ethan Rippy, and my late brother, Bill, were also Marines. The only printable thing Bill called me was “Zoomie.” Oh, and since my Air Force duty was in a HQ building, he allowed as how I was an “Office Pinky.”

Many of the other geezers (used here as a term of respect, by the way, not derision) are also veterans. Glenn Burgess (USAF) heads up the American Legion Honor Guard, the guys who perform the “military courtesies” at veterans’ funeral services. He actively campaigned for funds to outfit the guys with uniforms that dignify their appearance at these solemn occasions.

I used the word “introducing” in the title of this column for lack of a better word to write of people many of you already know. Funny how a person who “needs no introduction” gets a long, flowery one anyway. I get a Polk County history lesson every week, and learn a lot more than I choose to share with you in these columns. At our gathering around the oval table to munch on McDonald’s delicacies and drink gallons of coffee we share much friendly banter and stories that truly illuminate both the foibles and the realities of life. Join us if you wish—or dare!