As the title of my blog, Sights, Sounds, and Souls of the South suggests, I will be writing about special people that live in the South. Now, I don’t necessarily mean famous people – they’ve already had their 15 minutes. I want to introduce you to extra-ordinary people that have a story or stories to tell that maybe haven’t had that chance. My first “soul” blog, of course, has to be about someone very special to me, who I consider one of the gentlest souls I know, with lots of great stories.
This man was born on September 15, 1936. This was a time when America had been slowly recovering from the Great Depression, but then fell into a recession. Some actually called it the Recession within the Depression. Times were bad, but he was obviously too young to remember. However, he tells a story from his Dad who worked a job during this time that paid $1.00 a day. People would come to his Dad and beg to work his job that day for half of his pay. They willingly worked all day for .50 and felt very blessed to get it.
One of this fellow’s earliest memories came from December 7, 1941. At 5 years of age, he remembers seeing his grandfather bent over the radio and hearing him yell to his Mom, “The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.” Little did he know that his Mom’s brother, his Uncle Bob, would be in a plane crash in Germany and be a POW for six months, or that in a couple of years he would be swimming in Chestnut Creek with German POWs sent to live in Chilton County’s CCC camp. The POWs worked at the mill close by and would swim with everyone on their break. One of them even showed the youngsters his bayonet wound.
The 1950’s were a whirlwind. Our gentle soul finished high school, college, and dental school. He didn’t have a car in college, so he hitchhiked home to Clanton from Tuscaloosa every weekend. The car to have back then was a ’57 Chevy, but he never got one. He did get a ’50 Chevy in 1956 then lost the brakes on it as he was going down “that big hill” on Hwy 31 North right past Vulcan Park in Birmingham. Amazingly, a light changed to green just as he flew up to it, and then a city bus full of people stopped just before crossing his path. An empty parking space on an incline at a gas station and popping the clutch at just the right moment finally brought that little adventure to an end.
If the fifties were a whirlwind, the 60’s might have been a tornado. Getting married, giving the Navy two years, starting a dental practice, having 3 children, and beginning a series of mission trips would be on the agenda. It was during one of these trips that our guy, along with his good friend and pilot, flew a single engine airplane across the Gulf of Mexico, landed in Cozumel, unknowingly refueled with bad gas, then flew on to Guatemala. You probably know where this is going! Over the mountains of Guatemala, at 1,000 feet above the tree line, the engine quit. “It got very quiet,” he says now of that nerve-racking experience. Somebody, somewhere must have been praying for that little plane because the pilot was able to get the engine running and bring it safely to the ground.
In a month, this special person will be 84 years old. That’s lots of stories and lots of adventures – too many to put here, but if you happen to run into him, get him to tell you one of his quail hunting stories or how he saw his wife at the skating rink when they were both 14 and told his friend, “that’s gonna be my wife.” By the way, his name is Philip Benson Simms, Jr. Most people call him Phil, but I just call him Daddy.