Suddenly, the world changed.
At least, mine did.
The past week has had me in a bit of a tailspin I wasn’t sure I could pull out of.
During the past 30-plus years, there hasn’t been anyone who has been a part of my life as much as Bill Biggerstaff.
When I received a call last week letting me know he had been taken by ambulance to the hospital, I wasn’t worried at first.
After all, anyone who has known him can tell you Billy has always been the best when it comes to talking his way out of anything. I fully expected this to be just another case such as that.
Within minutes, I found myself on the road and headed to Charlotte with my head in a flurry, arriving to find his family and other friends in a setting that seemed surreal.
Bill had been taken into surgery, so I joined them to wait it out.
The surgeons finally appeared to tell us that things for Bill weren’t looking good.
By the next morning, the number of folks at the hospital had grown as we all prepared ourselves. We each visited with him while knowing we were experiencing the final moments of his life, and there’s no way I can describe what that felt like. In a sense, my life was ending, too.
That’s how it is when you have such a history with someone. We’ve done so much together for as long as I can remember.
From getting into all kinds of mischief as youngsters to our fishing and hunting excursions, trips and thousands of “meet-ups” for lunch in our adult years, Billy has been a true constant in my life.
OK. I’ll be honest. We’ve gotten into plenty of mischief in our later years as well.
The driving force behind our relationship was always a love of the outdoors and most anything related to it.
We both loved hunting turkeys, fishing in both fresh and saltwater, had an affinity for custom knives, good guns and sweet-sounding game calls.
I also have Bill to thank for turning my passions into a career of sorts. Back in 1997, as I was getting married, Bill said, “I’ll tell ya what ya ought to do. Since you’re moving down to the Charleston area and they don’t have a really ‘jam up’ tackle shop down there, you ought to open one.”
Four months after we both wore tuxedos for my wedding day, the doors to the place he envisioned opened. After a few weeks of working the kinks out, I had an official grand opening, and there was no way that Billy was going to miss it.
Bill ultimately found his own way to turn the outdoors world into work when Bass Pro Shops decided to open in the Charlotte market. He was one of the first to slip in there and get a job.
He quickly found retail was a great place for someone so blessed with the “gift of gab.”
He followed that up with a long stint at Nicholl’s Store in Rock Hill before finally taking a position with Academy Sports and Outdoors as it entered South Carolina.
After Bill’s passing, I spent the next day alone, recalling and re-living all of the things we had done. I thought about many years ago, when we made a trek to the mountains to go trout fishing and had stopped on the way home at a bait shop because they had a big sign out front that stated “We have spring lizards.”
“Oh, I’ve got to get me some spring lizards,” he said. “You can’t find ’em just anywhere, and that’s the greatest bass bait in the world!”
After venturing in to get them, he brought two containers back, and we continued the drive down the mountain.
“What exactly does a spring lizard look like?” I asked as I started opening one of the containers.
Bill immediately started saying, “Don’t open tha-”
Too late. We had spring lizards flying all around the inside of that old Jeep, and just about ran off the side of the mountain because of it.
I thought of how, earlier that same day, we had stood in the middle of that cold mountain stream and passed a Mason jar that we had stashed in the water under rocks. It was filled with a liquid so clear and strong that the stream itself was jealous.
We used to go striper fishing on Lake Norman each year the day after Christmas.
His grandmother loved the taste of fresh fried striper, and each time she’d laugh and say, “Y’all don’t come back until you get enough.”
Not too long ago, he and I ventured out to do a little coyote hunting. We didn’t have a bit of luck calling one in, but it didn’t matter. Anything with Billy was fun because it was always guaranteed that something funny was going to happen.
That day, he had chosen to sit in a pop-up ground blind that collapsed on him as he tried to exit.
The scene itself looked like half a dozen people were fighting under a camouflaged sheet as he wrestled that thing to free himself.
I recalled an offshore fishing trip that Allison and I had made with Bill and our friend Paul Shuler about 16 years ago. Paul was hit with sea sickness and had curled up on the deck to take a nap.
After a little while, the captain of our boat noticed something didn’t look right about Paul. He was out like a light with his eyes open and somewhat rolled back in his head.
Upon seeing this, Bill started into a panic attack, just as Paul awoke, sat upright and about gave Bill a heart attack 50 miles offshore.
“I thought he’d checked out!” Bill said.
As I settle into the reality that my friend is gone and begin to look ahead at what will be like the start of a second life for me, I can’t help but find it impossible to believe there will be no more adventures with Bill.
No more stories added to the vast collection I have stashed away in my head.
Still, for the ones I have, I am extremely thankful and will treasure them for all my days.
I’ll always miss you, buddy.
You were truly one of a kind.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow him on Twitter: @BHarveyOutdoors.