Return with us Now to the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
by Jim Simmons
If football in Chesapeake Country disappoints you, return with us to the glory days of the Baltimore Colts when players were heroes.
One of the best was stalwart lineman Billy Ray Smith.
Billy Rays death last spring was the subject of a Bill Burton column recalling the days when together they fished, hunted and partied. That column [Vol. 9, No. 13, March 29-April 4] was discovered on the web by the players cousin, Jim Simmons, who adds a bit more to the legacy.
Billy Ray Smith and I were first cousins; my father and his mother were brother and sister. He was a little more than a month older than me. He was born January 27, 1935, and I was born March 14, 1935.
Billy Ray grew up in Augusta, Arkansas, and I grew up near the sister town of McCrory. Old Bill would never admit it, but McCrory had the better football team in the early 50s when we were in high school and we used to beat Augusta.
Hunting and fishing came natural to the two of us. He grew up on White River and I grew up on Cache River. The rivers and swampy bottom land within the Mississippi migration flyway, with rice a major crop, were a duck hunters paradise. Bill Burton really missed out by not going duck hunting with him.
Nothing like freezing your butt off sitting in a cold, dark, damp duck blind and watching the sun come up in the morning. Feeling the hard steel of a shotgun receiver with its cold cutting through your gloves. Feeling the cold get to your toes and wishing you had put on another pair of woolen socks. But when you hear the clucks and wing beats of the mallards as they come in for a landing, all else is forgotten. This has to be lived to be believed. You had to be there.
Billy Ray was indeed big and feared nothing. I recall one day my father, my two brothers and I had just killed a young beef and were trying to wrassle it onto the block and tackle attached to a tree so we could get it off the ground to butcher it. Billy Ray and his father, Uncle J.D., appeared at that time, and when Billy Ray saw what we were doing, he grabbed that sucker around the hind quarters, picked it up and said, where do you want to hang it?
I think about that now and marvel at his strength. Then, no one thought anything about it. It was as natural as falling off a log backwards.
One of our other fascinations when we were young teenagers was airplanes. He and I constructed a flying model and attached it with a rope to a limb of the magnolia tree in his front yard. This thing hung down on a single rope attached to the center of balance so that it could move about on all axes. We flew the heck out of that plane. In later years, Billy Ray learned to fly, and he used to fly into the country airport East of Augusta to visit his mother.
I last saw him at a cousins reunion in Jacksonport, Arkansas, on the White River in the 90s. After the reunion, Billy Ray, his son Bruce, Uncle J.D., my two brothers and I sat in the back yard of the house Billy Ray grew up in and reminisced about the old days. It was a very enjoyable evening. Billy Ray always was a lot of fun to be around.
After we graduated from high school, we went our separate ways. He went on to Fayetteville to college and continued making a name for himself playing with the Razorbacks, and I joined the Air Force, where I remained for 20 years.
In retrospect, Im sorry that we grew apart. I too miss him.
Jim Simmons writes from Gautier, Mississippi. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.