Have you paid attention to the nonagenarians who remain energetically in circulation? That is part of the problem — there’s not an abundance of folks who live to be 90 years old; however they are all around you. You just gotta probe a little.
Getting to octogenarian status is a challenge for many. However, if you take inventory, there are more than a handful of octogenarians and nonagenarians moving about.
Nonagenarians usually have several things in common. They are active mentally and physically. Their waist lines don’t bulge. They have never been users of tobacco products, they consume alcohol in moderation, and, typically, they are more interested in books than the “vast wasteland” that is television.
I have several nonagenarian friends who are always inspiring to interact with; one is Bill Hale, who became an author late in his octogenarian years and is having the time of his life. Several years ago, Hale began chronicling his memories for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
That led to a book, much of it about his mill village life, growing up in Greenville, S.C. It was an austere life, which spawned a creative and inventive bent, which led to a career in education, which segued into a speaking career, which put him in touch with a world that he only dreamed about growing up on “Mill Hill.”
His first book, “The Village and Beyond,” was so much fun and such a success that he recently came out with another, “There Is a Story Everywhere” — which has led to a newspaper column that has him eager to start every new day in his life.
Most of his friends know him as Dr. William H. Hale, a distinguished educator, but his book is by Billy Hale, the mill village kid blessed with imagination, curiosity, and creative thought.
Dr. Hale couldn’t write, “There Is a Story Everywhere,” but Billy Hale could. What we have here, with his reflective and reminiscing insightfulness, is an everyday manuscript that sings to our souls and illuminates and connects our mind’s eye with the past. Billy Hale is a latent author who is making us want more.
He “never really thought” about publishing a book until he began compiling personal vignettes for his family. This book was in his head, however, when he was hanging out with his boyhood friends, R.W., Stein, Wayne and Lard. Now his musings are documented for us all to enjoy, because so many of us have been there.
Billy Hale often flopped down in the branches of a Chinaberry tree where he daydreamed about exploring the world we live in, one he never thought he would be introduced to. He asked questions, read books, and appreciated the doctrine of faith, hope and charity — the only thing in the mill village which was not in short supply.
He enjoyed a better life than his parents did, much of that owing to his ambition and inventiveness, but he can’t get the mill village out of his head. Sometimes austerity leads to opportunity. It can often lead to greed, but Billy Hale only wanted money to sustain himself and his family. He has always been generous with his ideas and his thoughts. The best of Billy Hale, he is willing to give away.
This bit of wisdom fits him perfectly: “You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I, you can never be. I had a mother who read to me.”
Billy Hale’s mother was widowed at an early age, but her expansive love and spirit of make do were central to her son’s emotional and rare creative thinking — don’t be reluctant or embarrassed to question. This curiosity of spirit has made him a sagacious and penetrating author at an age when many of his friends have crossed the mystic river or are dying on the vine without a clue as how to enjoy life.
“Villa Rica and Other Stories” is a subtitle that makes you aware that ordinary people have lasting value, that the abandoned box in the corner of the basement or a conversation with Mildred at the Waffle House can translate into meaningful and enlightening stories. Only the curious, like Billy Hale, ever consider looking into that box or striking up a conversation with Mildred.
Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.