THE GIANT

by Randy Reynolds






We were the sons of a father of girls, we Boy Scouts of Troop 336, we Shepherd’s Fold church kids, we school students who grew up wanting to be like “Mr. Bill.”  He had a family of girls, but spent so much time with us boys that I often wondered if his daughters were jealous of us.  We were certainly jealous of THEM, because we only got to spend time with Mr. Bill at Scout Meetings, at church, on campouts, at the dinner table (when the Reynolds’ visited the Barkers’ and vice-versa.)  Now and then, he’d join us for a pickup ballgame at the home of his nephews (the McLary’s.)  But Beth, Rhonda, Cathy, Mary and Laurie were with him every day. It wasn’t fair. He lived with his daughters and only saw his ever-changing cast of sons a few times a week.

Fifty years ago—(my dad and I think it was the fall that Kennedy was assassinated)—Mr. Bill played a football game with some of his  “boys.”

Bill Barker, Sunday School Superintendent/Youth Leader/Scoutmaster/School Principal/Father Of Many Daughters was the quarterback of one team of Shepherd's Fold men and boys.  E.J. Reynolds, Pastor/My Dad/Father Of Six, played linebacker for the opposition. 

Willie and Richie McLary, Wayne Jenkins, Rodney Jenkins, myself, some Keatings and Galloways  and a few other neighborhood boys got the game going going in the field next to the McLary House in the notorious Second Ward of St. Tammany Parish, identified on maps as Pulltight, now called Barker's Corner. Dad and Mr. Bill and a couple of other adults came out to play—an equal number of men joining each side. 

My dad was good at every sport he ever tried and I was glad to have him on my side.  He had been a star ever since he first tossed a basketball, swung a bat, or spiked a volleyball.  E.J. Reynolds had a competitive streak a mile wide and, minister or not, would do anything to win.  (He and I had some loud and aggressive arguments about things like whether a badminton birdie was in bounds or out;  Dad never gave an inch. Neither did I.  Lucikly the church had stashed us in a parsonage tucked way back in the woods so our badminton and croquet and basketball screaming was heard only by our own family and our nervous horses and chickens and dogs and the surrounding wildlife of Semalusa  Swamp.)

This particular football game in the McLary portion of the Barker compound in the fall of the year that JFK was killed was another chance for my Dad to ride his competitive streak to a victory; for his star to shine; for him to get that adrenalin rush—those endorphins—that make the human animal feel great, but are so hard to trigger (for our kind of people) outside of church. 

Half a century later (Whew! Time flies!) my dad says:   “I thought I was a pretty good player. Nobody was going to get past me.  But old Bill got the ball and ran to my side of the line and I went up to stop him and he just lowered his shoulder and hit me in the chest, you know, to get by me, and I never felt anything that hurt so bad.  I ended up on the ground and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get up or not.  Then he got the ball again, and I thought ‘I’ll show him this time’ and he hit me again and I learned my lesson.  That Bill Barker was strong as a bull and I decided he could go whichever direction he wanted to after that. I didn’t try to stop him again.  When he came my way, I just stepped aside and let him go.”
  
Mr. Bill was a giant.  Maybe a little bigger than my 6’2”, 240 pound father, maybe not.  But I remember him as a giant.  And then I see pictures and realize that he was bigger in my memory, and in my observations at the time, than he is in these pictures.

 As our Scoutmaster, Mr. Bill taught us all the things Boy Scouts are supposed to know--how to tie knots, pitch a tent, cook on an open fire, send and receive Morse code, save lives, be good citizens, do a good deed daily, Be Prepared.... the list is endless.

True to the Scout motto, Mr. Bill was always prepared: he made every task a game and every lesson a funny story... ‘though sometimes we misinterpreted the moral of the story:

On a mid-winter campout, he told us about a dumb thing he had done as a kid--skinny-dipping in 30-degree weather. We said that was no big deal--anybody could do that. He told us to forget it--there'd be no swimming on this trip. A good Scout is obediant, but we were not good Scouts that night. Several of us slipped out of camp, took off all our clothes and jumped into the frigid creek. Rodney Jenkins and Glenn Talley collected our clothes and went back to camp to blow the whistle.

I remember hiding in the woods, freezing wet, listening as Mr. Bill, in that booming voice of his, called our names and told us to come on in. We ran around in the swamp, from tree to tree, bush to bush, trying to decide what to do. With our extremities in danger of freezing off, we finally decided on a frontal assault, broke cover and ran for our tents as other Scouts, fully clothed and sitting by a warm campfire, hooted, whistled and applauded. Mr. Bill pretended he didn't get a kick out of it. (Or maybe he wasn't pretending.) He didn't seem all that flattered that we had emulated him. We had broken the rules, so he sent us home to explain it to our parents.

(Mr. Bill knew what would happen when we got home because parents in those days didn't take kindly to their sons breaking the rules, any rules...but that's another story.)

(The last time I communicated with him—by e-mail—he said his mother had scolded him for sending us home that night and that he had always felt bad about it.  So he apologized.  48 years later, he apologized.  He didn’t need to, of course. It was nothing but a funny story to me; and my consequences at the time were well-deserved.  But he apologized.  I was surprised at the sensitivity of that gesture, but what surprised me most of all was big, hulking, giant, strong-as-a-
bull, leader-of-everything, thirty-something Bill Barker being scolded by his old mother about how he handled his Scouts.  Grammy Barker was one tough cookie.) 

On the night of my high school graduation, Mr. Bill and his wife, the beautiful SeWilla took me and other seniors on our first cruise down Bourbon Street. Being very religious people, they may have been hoping that our look at the wild side from the safety of their station wagon would educate us about sin. It did. And we would have subscribed to as much of it as we could afford if Mr. Bill had let us out of the car.
  

As my wedding day approached a few years after I'd left the Scouts, I wasn't sure whom to pick for Best Man. My mother said, "It should be your best friend." Which made the decision easy, if unorthodox: somewhat to his surprise, I chose Mr. Bill.

And one of the first things I did after I moved away was help organize a Boy Scout Troop.



5/11/2012     
You never think of giants and heroes dying, but one did today.   R.I.P., Mr. Bill.






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