Since the first day of first grade when I was six years old, I have had a friend called Sam. It is safe to say that he has been a best friend for the last forty years. We went to the same school through the ninth grade. We played various sports together, went to dinner and the movies together and spent many nights at each other’s homes.
I remember our dinner and movie nights being remarkable for the amount of food we would consume. Typically we would start out at Pizza Hut beforehand, where we each consumed our own medium pizza. Of course, by the end of the movie we were hungry again and would typically go to Burger King for another meal before heading home.
Sam is known for having played football during high school, but what I remember was playing basketball with him in elementary and junior high school. I remember those basketball times with a laugh because Sam was terrible at basketball. He would throw up the worst bricks anybody had ever seen, with the ball smacking loudly off the backboard. It didn’t matter to Sam or hurt his feelings when the rest of us would give him flack about being a bit too strong with the ball. Sam was just happy to be playing with his friends.
During our sophomore year of high school, I moved away. Being hundreds, or thousands of miles away from Sam did not diminish our friendship. Each time I made the trip back to Mississippi over the years, I always spent a majority of my time with Sam. All of those times with Sam involved watching sports, hunting or fishing. Sometimes all three in the same day.
Our fishing trips usually involved Sam baiting my hook for me and then getting the fish off the hook when I caught one. We never failed to catch lots of fish, which made the fishing more exciting. I remember one fishing trip we caught over a hundred fish! Fishing with Sam should have been called Catching instead of Fishing. All the catching of the fish led to us eating lots of fish as prepared by Mavis Byrd, Sam’s mom. That was certainly the best part of fishing with Sam.
Hunting with Sam was also lots of fun, but not because we got a deer every time we went out. Most of the time we never saw any deer. Hunting was fun because of all the things that happened while we were hunting, or at least supposed to be hunting. Sam would wake me up about 3 am so we could get ready and be at the hunting site before the sun rose at 6:30. We would get dressed and have breakfast. Next we would gather all our hunting supplies and put them in the truck. Then we would drive to the gas station and fill the truck with gas. After filling up with gas, we would finally drive out to the hunting site. The hunting site was typically in a wooded area in the middle of some large property. Getting to the site meant we had to drive through pastures where barbed wire fences sectioned off various areas of the property. When we came to a gate in the fence, I would jump out of the truck and open the gate so Sam could drive the truck through. I would then shut the gate after Sam drove the truck through, only to realize that I had shut the gate with myself on the wrong side while Sam sat in the truck watching me in his rear view mirror, laughing heartily. I would then open the gate again and put myself on the correct side, re-close the gate and get back in the truck. The funny part is that I would do the exact same thing at the next gate, and Sam would sit there in the truck and watch me the whole time without saying a word just so he could laugh again. I blame it on the fact that it was early in the morning.
Finally, Sam and I would arrive wherever it was we were going to park the truck so we could head into the woods and begin hunting. The only problem was that it was now about 3:45 am and too dark to hunt. Daylight being a scant 2 hours away, we passed the time by singing, “Killing Time”, the country song by Clint Black. After a while we would both fall asleep, only to wake up just in time to see that we now had plenty of light because it was about 7:30 in the morning.
In later years, I would sometimes call Sam when he was sitting in the woods hunting. The conversation would go something like this:
Sam (whispering): “Hello”
Me: “What are you doing?”
Sam: “Killin’ time.”
Me: “Oh, so you are hunting?”
Me: “Seen anything?”
Me: “Ok, well, I’ll talk to you later.”
Sam: “Alright, be good buddy.”
Be good. Sam lived his life being good. Other people have been described as having lived a life of service to others, but I have never met another person who lived that way as much as Sam. When my grand-parents were still alive, they moved residences constantly. Coincidentally, they also moved nearly every time I came to Mississippi for a visit. In other words, I was always around to help when my grand-parents needed to move. Sam being Sam, he was also there, picking up all the heavy stuff and putting it in the truck.
At a time when I was living in Colorado, I called my grand-parents to say hello and update them on whatever was happening in my world. My grandfather said his car was broken, so I told him to call Sam. He called Sam and of course, my grandfather’s car was fixed the next day, Sam having taken care of everything.
When Sam took a job coaching football and teaching at a small school in South Mississippi, about 5 hours away from our hometown of Starkville, I was certain the town of Starkville was going to fall apart because Sam had left. Proving that miracles do still happen, the town still exists, but that is probably because Sam eventually came back to the area.
Sam always put others before himself because that was the essence of Sam. It never occurred to Sam to live in any other manner.
It was ever my privilege to have known Sam. I am certain that anyone who knew him would say the same. Sam passed away on Wednesday, December 18, 2019.
Thank you Sam, now go up there and be good buddy.