Tribute to Bernie

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My Billy Creech Story

(Really A Tribute to Coach Bernie Reid)

by

Ben Swilley, Class of 1960

Today’s stories and movies about teens are often touted as being “coming of age” tales. I’m not sure what “coming of age” means, but I think this may be a story about how I came of age.

In the summer of 1957 I decided to go to football camp. We were on a family outing out on the Grave Springs Road when my Daddy got tired of me whining about my miserable life so he kicked me out near an old trash bin. We didn’t have dumpsters back then but ever since I have sympathized with dumpster dogs.   I was trying to decide if I should have dinner there or walk back across the river when a car full of football players came by. They let me ride in the trunk.

And that’s how I decided to go to football camp. Football Camp at Grave Springs, a special torture camp for both the guys who could actually play football and the not-so-good simple-minded rest of us.

There was a fairly new whitewashed cinder block bunkhouse that housed the coaching staff and the upper classmen. It had windows without bars and metal bunks, one stacked on the other, and real mattresses.

An old unpainted clapboard, shaky looking, bunk house housed the underprivileged fleshy-heads like me. Our bunkhouse had one door on each end and makeshift bunks built three high from scrap lumber tacked together with old rusty, reject nails. People sleeping on the top bunk often got nosebleed from a lack of oxygen up there.

One day during the middle of the week all the coaches left us and went into town. We grubs couldn’t understand why we were left victim to the untamed upper class savages by the coaches.  We were abandoned and it occurred to me that the coaches were all sick of our whining and didn’t want to see us alive any more.

In the absence of the coaches it was only a matter of minutes before the older, stronger (and meaner) boys had stormed our old bunkhouse. They ran most of the younger boys outside, and commandeered the top beds of every bunk in the house.  Then they brought out this huge arsenal of rubber bands and every stick, wad of paper, metal paper clip and any thing else they could propel  as a lethal weapon with a rubber band.

I was trapped inside. I ran to a far corner of the bunkhouse. Luckily I could make myself disappear because I was extremely skinny and I had a large bushy, poorly defined head.  I quickly aligned my skinny frame with one of the four by four bunk posts and my strangely shaped head with a big knothole in the wall. So I became invisible as I watched it all unfold from the beginning.

Enter Billy Creech:

 Billy Creech saunters in the door. Creech is cool. He had definition in the shape of his body. He looked like a football player. The rest of us looked like little stick people with big heads or sacks of potatoes with shoes and helmet heads. Creech was so cool he could actually saunter. The rest of us couldn’t even mosey which wasn’t as cool as sauntering. When we tried to mosey, we wound up looking more stupid than usual and we fell down a lot.

 So in saunters Creech completely unaware that he faced a deadly gauntlet of fierce, whistling, scorching projectiles until it was too late. One of the missiles popped him right in the eye. In seconds he looked like there was a small gourd growing from his eye socket. Inside a minute it looked like somebody had nailed a cantaloupe to his forehead.

And then came the “coming of age “magical moment.  Coach Bernie Reid came through the door. He had seen poor Creech stumbling around outside holding his head with his hands in a valiant attempt to keep his eyeball from slipping further down on his cheek.

Did I say Coach Reid came through the door? It was more like Coach Reid made a new door. He came in like an enraged grizzly. That’s probably why they called him Bear. If you don’t remember Bernie Reid I can tell you that, at that precise moment, not only was he an enraged grizzly but looked (and acted like) the Tasmanian Devil……times five.

The only voice heard was Coach Reid’s and nobody moved, nobody blinked, and nobody drew a breath. The ferociousness of the message was so intense and so powerful we all stared in wide-eyed, slack-jawed   disbelief until I thought I would pass out from fear and extreme oxygen deprivation.

And then there was affirmation of my “coming of age”.  Someone else spoke. Someone said a word that transformed us all and changed our young lives forever. Someone said the magic word. Believe it or not the magic word was “Damn”. I’m not going to tell you who spoke that word because he probably still has flashbacks of red-faced soul-searing embarrassment not to mention a few arthritic aches and pains from the results of his uttering that one word. To be truthful he was whining.

The speaker of the magic word actually said “but Damn Coach” and he was instantly airborne. This was a day of many firsts for me. I had never seen a 200 pound man thrown bodily against a wall. The unpainted clapboard wall shook and spewed forth hundred year old dust motes from every crack. The whole building trembled for several minutes. I would have run but my knees wouldn’t work.

I had never seen a man as big as the Coach move so fast. I had never seen blistering flames erupt from a man’s nostrils and gale force winds burst from a human throat.

No sooner did our magical word man bounce off the wall than Coach Reid had him by the collar on the rebound and while his toes dangled a good six inches off the floor, the Coach explained in that kindly, fatherly way of his that if there was going to be any cursing, the coach himself would do it.

It all soon passed. The speaker of the magic word survived. Creech survived and to this day I believe he is sighted in both eyes. I survived and I seriously believe that was the snapshot moment of my “coming of age” and every time I hear Aretha belt out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, I think of that great character-forming moment when I realized how important it is not to be such a whiner and to choose your words very, very carefully when speaking to adults – especially those built like a grizzly bear with the speed and temper of the Tasmanian Devil…..times five.

Thank you Coach Bernie Reid. Because of you and that very important lesson, I along with many of my old high school pals survived a lot longer than we probably should have.

 March 30, 2010

 

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