Bill Bridgers left lasting impression

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Sometimes the best lessons in life are those that are dealt to you unbeknownst that someone is trying to teach you something.

At the age of 17, I got a lesson in caring for others that I’ve never forgotten.

It was in the fall of the year. The days had grown chilly and short and the sunsets filled the air with purple and pink from the dust of combines that scattered the area of Northampton County where I lived.

It was peanut picking season and that meant most everything else was put on hold until the crops were taken from the fields. Peanuts were big business in Northampton County in those days.

Growing up on a peanut farm outside of Rich Square, I was very accustomed to harvest season and what it meant to have peanuts turned up on the ground.

As all peanut farmers, you waited to dig when you knew you could quickly harvest and each day became a gamble against you and Mother Nature.

On this particular afternoon, a classmate’s father had several acres of peanuts dug and the weather quickly became an obstacle to reckon with.

Forecasters were expecting several days of soaking rains and time was of the essence.

Some of the guys in my class were asked, or either volunteered – I really don’t remember which – to lend a helping hand. After school, we all jumped in our cars and headed to Billy Bridgers’ (more commonly known as Billy Boy) father’s farm to do whatever we could to help.

Billy’s dad, Fat Bill, as he was so fondly known, was handing out the orders to farm hands and us… mostly placing pitchforks in our hands and asking, &uot;you know what to do with that, boy?&uot;

Well, windrowing was not my favorite thing in the world, but I knew how and I quickly set about to do my part.

A couple of classmates got to drive a tractor or shovel peanuts in the trailer, but Mr. Bill quickly put us all to work… and his idea of work, wasn’t thinking about it, it was doing it.

We worked in that field for several hours that day, and by dark, were taken to Billy Boy’s mama’s table for one of the biggest meals I’d ever seen.

The next day was Saturday, and just a little after dawn, we went back and took over our roles and worked that field until mid-afternoon.

As we finished up Mr. Bill’s last field of peanuts, I was thankful to be done and, quite honestly, was ready to call it quits.

But Mr. Bill had other plans. He had bodies in that field and he intended to get a little more use from them.

Bill Bridgers had a couple of combines working the field we were in, and he directed both of them down the road to a field that another combine was already working.

He gathered up all of us and directed us to that same field.

Within about 15 minutes, another combine came up the road and it too was put in the field to start picking peanuts.

There were four combines in this one field and in a matter of minutes, the field was clean.

As the dark clouds continued to build, Mr. Bill wasn’t through. After a short discussion with a couple of farmers at the edge of the field, all four of those combines headed down the road to another field where another farmer worked frantically to pick his peanuts.

One by one, the combines entered the field and began picking peanuts.

By dark, the job was finished. We had helped harvest two other farmers’ fields.

It dawned on me that Mr. Bill was more than just a good neighbor, he was a man who wasn’t going to allow his neighbors to get caught out in the… rain, in this case.

He went the extra mile. I later found it was customary in that part of the county for farmers to jump in and help one another, but it would have been so easy to have just said, &uot;I’m done with mine, you guys do the best you can.&uot;

Not Bill Bridgers. He showed a deep concern and caring for those other people and that image as stuck with me ever since.

And that’s just the kind of person Bill Bridgers was. He was a gentle giant of a man who, when he gave you his word, stuck by what he said.

He left an impression on me that day that I’ll never forget, and one I’ve tried to instill in my children.

Bill Bridgers will be missed in the Conway community. He was always offering something to someone and asking very little in return.

He had many friends… all of which somehow seemed like family. But there again, that’s the way he was. He treated you like family – if he liked you.

He wasn’t much of a man of mystery. He pretty much let you know where he stood, but that was what made him so great.

I hope God knows how to play cards, because I’m sure right now somewhere up in Heaven, Mr. Bill is looking for a table of good ole boys, a dip of snuff and a friendly game of Rook.

Good possibility he’s already found John Davis and few of his old buddies, and somewhere tonight, if you listen really hard, you just might hear the sound of somebody getting trumped – another lesson to be learned for sure.