As I’ve previously shared on our blog, the fun of being a picker or collector are the people you meet and the friendships you make. I was reminded of this once again due to the recent passing of my good friend, Mr. Bill Jones.
It just so happens that an article I wrote about our friendship will soon be published in the November/December issue of American Digger Magazine―a publication that is partially responsible for our friendship. If you’re not a subscriber to the magazine, I would encourage you to become one. And if you are, I hope you enjoy reading a few great stories about Bill.
I recently penned a letter to Bill’s wife, feeling it was important to let her know how much I enjoyed his friendship and to share some of the things he taught me. It’s that letter that I would like to share with you. I thought it was appropriate to do so in order for you to celebrate the man I came to call a friend, to share the lessons he so graciously taught me, and to reinforce why it’s so important not to lose sight of what matters most in life.
Dear Mrs. Jones,
On a recent drive home, at about the same time Bill would call me to talk history, our hobbies, and life in general, I received a phone call informing me of his passing. I’m writing you to express my deepest condolences to you and your family. I’m also writing you to let you know how much his friendship meant to me.
My name may not be that familiar to you, as Bill only recently came into my life. You may recall a recent visit from a bearded man, along with his beautiful wife and two amazing daughters. That bearded man is me, Will Adams.
Late last year, as I made my way home from a long day of work, my phone rang. When I answered, I was greeted by a soft spoken gentlemen on the other end of the line. It was Bill. He introduced himself, explained how he got my phone number, and the reason for his call. In his slow and steady country drawl, he told me that he received my telephone number from the editor of a magazine that we both read and write for, American Digger Magazine. As he would go on to explain, the reason for the call was to trade notes on WW2 artifacts that we both had recovered in old training camps across middle Tennessee. Only a few minutes into our first-ever conversation, Bill was talking with me as if we had been friends for decades.
Over the coming months, Bill and I would trade emails about a variety of topics. Without fail, Bill would always send his messages, or reply to mine, in the early morning hours. In fact, I don’t recall receiving one after 7am! On the occasions Bill called me, his timing was impeccable. He knew when I traveled to work, returned home, and how long each drive normally took to complete. Sometimes he would call to simply share what was on his mind. Other times, he would call to tell me a story that he thought I might enjoy. And my goodness, did he have stories to tell!
Email and phone conversations soon turned to the topic of finding time to meet face-to-face. Finally, in the spring of this year, I was able to break away from my family and work obligations to pay a visit to your comfortable home. A home that reminded me of my grandparents’ farm house―a special place that I spent many joyous summer months as a kid growing up.
Bill, ever mindful of others, insisted that I bring my Father along for the visit. As I would later find out, Bill could recall every story I had shared about my Dad and knew that spending time with him was important to me.
This wasn’t lost on Bill. He downright demanded that my Father join us. That’s just one of the many things that I learned from Bill:
In every relationship, seek to understand and nurture the things that are most important to others.
My Father and I met Bill and Emmett “Mountain Man” Bear at your home one cool spring morning. Bill couldn’t wait to get me and my Dad into his shop; for it was there that he had stashed our gifts away―two WW2 artillery shells! Bill gave us the complete rundown on the shells; how they operated, their purpose, where he found them, and how he cleaned and preserved them.
Since that day, my Dad and I have proudly displayed our gifts in our respective homes, where they continue to serve as conversation pieces. Without fail, our house guests always ask us about the shells, giving us each an opportunity to talk about Bill. That’s another important lesson that I learned from Bill:
Give to others without expecting anything in return.
We had a great day in the field, both finding artifacts and learning about the history we were in search of. Bill, 45-years my senior, didn’t miss a beat all day. He kept pace with his younger counterparts, both in terms of mental wit and physical stamina. During our lunch break, I noticed Bill taking some medication. When I asked if he wanted to head back to the house, he waived me off. After months of talking with one another and building our friendship, it wasn’t until that moment that I discovered Bill was fighting with health issues. Yet again, through his actions, Bill taught me another important lesson:
Regardless of your how difficult your personal circumstances may be, never let them define you.
Following our time together, Bill encouraged me to write an article for our favorite magazine, recounting our adventures in the field. I took him up on the challenge and put my pen to paper. Once I completed a draft of the article, I sent it to Bill for his approval. He loved everything about it, with one exception. He wanted to make sure that I referenced Emmett by name in the article. He told me how much it would mean to him to see his name in print, knowing that others would read about him. Again, knowingly or unknowingly, Bill used that moment to teach me something else:
Think about others before yourself.
That article is included in the upcoming issue―one that you’re set to receive by the end of the month. And thanks to the publishers, Butch and Anita Holcombe, they will provide you with an additional copy to give to Emmett, just as Bill would have wanted it! Rest assured, Bill got to see every word. Now, thousands of others will get to hear about your wonderful husband.
Bill and I continued to keep up with one another through email and phone. I told him how much I enjoyed his friendship and how I wanted him to meet the rest of my family. In fact, my oldest daughter, Payton, was especially interested in meeting the mysterious man that sent Daddy home with all those “bombs”!
It wasn’t long until my daughter got the chance to meet that man. On a trip to visit my folks, my family and I decided to take a detour, and meandered our way to your home. You were both so welcoming. As we visited in your living room, you both took turns sharing stories, often finishing each other’s thoughts. At some point during our visit, Bill cut his eyes towards me and gave me a subtle nod as to indicate it was time to go to the man cave.
He proceeded to take me to his museum room to show me some bottles he recently fished out of storage to research and clean. He dug them many years ago in Chattanooga. He picked out the prettiest of the bunch and forcefully pushed it against my chest saying, “Take this one home with you.” It now sits in the center of my museum room for all to see―alongside those “bombs” we found together!
While only friends for a little more than a year, Bill treated me like I was his lifelong best friend. I’m not naïve to think that was just because of me. I’m sure he made everyone feel that way. I just want you to know how much I enjoyed Bill and to share with you some of the things I learned from the ole’ paratrooper!
I’ll do my very best to carry forward in life putting those lessons into practice. In a very real way, Bill will continue to live on through all those that he touched along the way.