My world is not as bright as it was when I went to bed Thursday evening. B.C. Crowell died Friday morning.
B.C. was one of my heroes, as I have said many times. I know, without question, that he loved me, because he told me so every time I saw him. Now one less person who loves me has gone on to glory and let’s face it — in the world we live in, we all need all the love we can get.
I was at camp meeting when I got the word. We had just finished the morning service. We sing a lot of the old gospel songs at camp meeting and one of my favorites is “Precious Memories.” As soon as I learned of B.C.’s passing, a flood of memories began to pour over me.
I remembered, for instance, how handsomely distinguished B.C. always looked. His hair was always stylish and he liked to dress up. For some reason one of the first things I thought about was a story B.C. once told me about wearing a brand new white sport coat to a Georgia Tech game at Grant Field — back in the Bobby Dodd days.
“50,000 people in the stands,” B.C. would say, “And a pigeon finds my brand new white sport coat.”
I could see B.C. standing in the shadow of the giant Christmas tree in the Porterdale gymnasium, Bible in hand, reading the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke. In my mind’s eye, I could see the smile on his face and the gleam in his eye. B.C. loved people and people loved him.
I thought about the hundreds of hours I spent with him during my childhood. I could see him in the gym — and on the ball field — patiently teaching all the linthead children who adored him how to run and jump and how to shoot a ball or hit a ball or catch a ball — and how to live a better life.
I don’t know why, but a particular image of B.C. flashed through my head. He was sitting in a chair in the Porterdale gym, listening to the 1963 World Series on a small radio. He suddenly started clapping his hands against his knees saying over and over and over, “Mickey Mantle made an error! Mickey Mantle made an error!”
I don’t know if he was sad or glad, but the incident is burned into my memory.
Any mention of the Oglethorpe Stormy Petrals will always remind me of B.C., as will purple and gold athletic clothing and woolen Little League uniforms with pinstripes. And the P.J.H.S. Eagles will always be “my” team.
I remember being at a Newton High football game, a few years after I had graduated, and a guy in the group I was with asked what might have actually been a rhetorical question. “Why,” he wondered aloud, “is B.C. Crowell standing on the sideline with the coaches?”
“Because,” explained my friend Steve Piper, “he’s B.C.” Steve felt no other explanation was needed and none was.
I thought about a meeting I had with B.C. when I was about to graduate from college and begin the search for my first real job. He gave me some great advice. I remember him saying, “If they ask about your health on the application, don’t ever put ‘good.’” ‘Good,’ he explained is just mediocre. “Put ‘excellent’ or ‘great’ or tell them you are the healthiest person in the history of the world. Give them something to remember about you.”
“And,” he continued, “if you go in for an interview, talk about more than your educational qualifications. Find some common ground and carry on a conversation. Show them you have good common sense. Let them know that if they send you to town, you can find your way back.”
That has stuck with me all my life — as has so much other advice he gave me.
B.C. loved his wife Jane and he loved his four children, Sherrill, Matt, Susan and Nancy, and he never passed up a chance to tell me how well they were all doing. I thought about B.C.’s family and the sense of loss they are feeling, but I couldn’t help but smile a little, knowing how glad my old coach must be to be reunited with the love of his life.
I thought about my own father’s funeral and how B.C. was one of the last people to leave the graveside. I thought about the night, a few winters ago, when I was driving back from an out-of-town speaking engagement and got a call from a friend advising me that B.C. was in grave condition at Rockdale Hospital. I remembered the long drive home, wondering if he would make it through the night.
That time he did.
I thought about the night he and I sat on the bridge over the Yellow River, watching our beloved gymnasium being consumed in flames. We both shed a lot of tears that night. And I thought about the last time I visited B.C. at his home, last Christmas Day. I took my son, Jackson, by to see him and he told us story after story of things he had done and people he had known.
I asked him that day if he had ever met golfing legend Bobby Jones, and wasn’t the least bit surprised when he told me that he had caddied for him. I asked him to tell me the name of the best athlete he had ever coached and he answered, with very little hesitation, “Sonny-boy Prince.”
But he then went on to discuss the prowess of many other great ones.
And I thought about the last time I saw him, maybe a month ago. First he scolded me for not attending Betty Faith Jayne’s roast. Then his eyes filled with tears and he told me he loved me and that he was proud of me.
And I love you, B.C. I love you.
Precious memories. How they do linger.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.