There is a bluegrass song called ‘Wild Bill Jones.’ I didn’t know the man, but it could just as easily been Wild Bill Smith. Wild Bill lives at a place called the Bomb Shelter and seldom gets out.
God gave everybody one gift, and Wild Bill’s is a backhoe. They say Bill could lift a baby off a sidewalk and deliver the child into his mama’s arms and not leave a scratch on its butt. Bill specializes in heavy machinery. He can run a BobCat or a forklift better drunk than I could sober, and does so every day.
Bill loves his music. He’s in charge of stoking the fire at the Bomb Shelter. He might sit there all night and not say a word. Sometimes when you play a torrid tempo breakdown Bill listens real close and then hollers, ‘Play something peppy!” Every so often he’ll sing one, and he’s not a bad tenor.
One Sunday after church my daughter and her friends were at Walmart. Marie was a proper upper middle class suburbanite kid, but after years of hanging out with me, she knew the rest of the world, too. She was still in her Sunday best that day; a little pink dress her mama made for her. Lord, she was a cute young’un.
All of a sudden there was a commotion. Marie! Marie!!!
It was Wild Bill. He had spotted her from the grocery section, and came charging her way. Bill’s four teeth look like he’s been gnawing on walnuts, and his greasy black hair and gray-ish beard are both forever unkempt.
His blood-shot eyes are; uh… let’s just say I always thought he got his name from the way those tiny specks of coal dart around. They are jet black except for the gray rim around the outer part of the iris the old folks at home sometimes get (arcus senilis) and they beat back and forth in a constant rhythm. Doctors call it nystagmus.
Bill rushed over. “Marie, so good to see you!” Her little friends were terrified. When he reached to hug her, one of them wanted to call security, but was frozen in fear.
“Why Bill, how in the world are you?” She bear-hugged Bill like a long-lost uncle. They exchanges pleasantries and a few music stories and then Bill was on his way.
“Make ‘em play it peppy,” she said.
“Yes ma’am, Miss Marie. You tell your daddy hello.”
The girls were all the way to the check out line before one spoke up. “How in the world do a you know a man like that?”
“Bill? Oh, he looks rough but he’s harmless. Sometimes he sings with Daddy.”
They didn’t ask any more questions. It might as well have been a visit from a Martian to them, but to us Bill is just a regular guy. We’re all a little odd, just in different ways. He’s a heck of a backhoe man if you ever need someone to dig a septic tank for you, and his rates are reasonable too.
My Marie has now moved to a big city in the Tobacco Triangle. The girl went to Chapel Hill and took ’bout everything they had before she began to teach what she’d learned. I’d loved to have kept her at home, but I understand. These are hard economic times, and there isn’t any work for her here in Harvey County.
But she’s still the same. Sometimes when her friends are over for dinner she’ll tell ‘em stories about her childhood. Every so often she’ll call me and tell me of their looks of disbelief. Much like some of the publishers who have read my book, they think she’s making it all up. What they don’t know is except for the fiction part it is all true.
One of these days I’m gonna run into a publisher who wants to take a chance on physician bluegrass fiction. One declined ’cause he feared bluegrass people didn’t read. I started to tell him about Bill, but I decided to let it go. Like Marie’s little friends, I was afraid his world view was a tad too sheltered to understand.
You see, Shakespeare is Bill’s favorite. (“We got the same damn name, don’t we Doc?”) Oh well, one day someone is gonna understand what I’m trying to say, and then we’ll see if bluegrass people read or not. My agent always says to show, not tell. I can’t wait till there is a picture of me and Bill with a signed copy. That’ll show ‘em.
I bet if they got to know Bill and needed a good backhoe man they’d hire him in a heart beat.
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