Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Son of a Minister

 The Reverend Billy Gene Bird was born May 27, 1933, in Big Cove, Alabama. The proud parents were, The Reverend John Gussie and Reba Bird. He was born during the "Great Depression" and that would impact his life in many ways. One out of four families were without work and times were challenging, to say the least. With so many people struggling to survive and not knowing literally where their next meal would come from, there was a great need for a preacher. The Church would be truly a sanctuary for the needy. It would provide food, a gathering place for social activities, a school for the children, and a place to be reassured God had not forsaken them. This would be the learning ground my dad would grow up in.

When Billy Gene was just a young school age boy, tragedy would strike the family. Their home was heated by a large fireplace, as was the custom of the day. Billy Gene was standing next to the fire when his clothes burst into flames. A sibling rescued him but not before the fire had done its harm. He was pulled from the fire with massive, life threatening burns that would leave him out of school for two years. As he struggled to understand "why me" the words of the gospel he heard from his father would take root and his life began to take shape. His calling in life would be become clearer with age. The "Great Depression" would come to an end as the United States entered into World War II. By the end of the war, Billy Gene was twelve years old and his lessons in life would continue to mold him. Prosperity was returning but the need for a "Spiritual Shepherd" was still great. Millions and millions of people lost their life during the war and no town in America escaped the pain of war.

Billy Gene would not finish high school. Like many in his generation, the need to work would thrust the young into the work force. Church events, traveling evangelist, and tent revivals were common place during this time. Billy Gene was active in all of those ministries and it would be during those encounters that he understood his life calling. He was to share the good news of the gospel. He would marry, have children, and move them all from town to town sharing the word of God. He was a tent revivalist before settling into a regular church. He would go back to school receiving his high school equivalent degree (GED) and eventually graduating with his Masters of Theology from the Church of God School of Theology. He was now the Reverend Bishop Gene Bird, pastor of many churches and friends to many of God’s soldiers of peace and love and happiness.

Billy Gene Bird was the son a minister. He would hear God’s word first at home and then at church. It would be his calling to share his "Father’s" Word. I am Billy Gene’s son. I am the son of a minister. I first heard the word of God at home and then at church. The word has taken root. God is with us when we are at our greatest and lowest of times in life. We are not forsaken. Our task is to learn and share God’s good news, that is the Gospel. My father died in 2017 at the age of 84. Thank you for reading my father’s story! The Reverend Greg Bird

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Three Amigos

March 2 at 6:10am
This is a tale of the "The Three Amigos", of which I am one. Gene, John and I have been buds for many years. Our kids were grown and we had the time, lots of time, to embrace our midlife full of energy and the spirit of exploration. Gene had a newly purchased Kawasaki touring bike. John had been in an accident as a teenager that left him physically unable to ride a motorcycle but certainly capable of joining in on the fun. I had owned several motorcycles over the years but had just purchased a brand new Honda Gold Wing touring motorcycle. It was big, black, lots of chrome, stereo system with ten disk CD changer, CB radio, and lots more. We were ready to see America, but we weren't going alone. A trip like this needed girls. Brave beautiful women that could straddle those iron horses and hang on. And I knew three women that were up to the challenge.

We met at the house to plan out this trip. We were going North, up to the state of Maine for lobster, then over to Nova Scotia for whale watching in a Zodiac boat and then back to St. Marys. The three girls were India, Karen, and Jo Beth and they were no strangers to our exploits. John and Karen would drive their car. Gene and I would pack our own gear on our bikes and we were all equipped with CB radios so we could talk with each other while on the road. After all the planning was done, the big day came. We mounted those stallions, spurred them with fuel, then headed toward heaven.

Jo Beth had climbed on that thousand pound bike and settled into her seat which had a full backrest, armrest with drink holder, and full floor boards for her feet. Some would say she had the best seat on the bike. As for me, I saw this blond hair, green eyed bombshell in shorts and a halter top and I would be sitting between those long bare legs. I knew who had the best seat!

We headed up and out of Georgia. Mine and Jo's helmets were fitted with speakers inside and microphones so that we could listen to tunes, talk with each other, and talk with our buds. When we hit the big cities and heavy traffic, Gene and I would race those ponies through town with John in the rocking chair. We got really good at helping each other in traffic. The beauty of riding motorcycles is everything is up close and personal. Not only can you really see the flowers along the way but you can smell them too. Of course that dead skunk we passed in the road smelled like we had hit him ourselves. Whew we, yuk! We rode through those winding mountain roads and along stretches of seashore. It was all beautiful.

As we were going through upstate New York on those winding mountain roads, I encountered an unexpected hitch hiker. We were heading north he was heading west. Somehow he missed my windshield but caught me on the side of my head just in front of my helmet. I reached in my helmet to remove the intruder but not before that bumble bee showed his displeasure at my interfering with his flight home. I pulled the reigns on those 100 horses, snatched off my helmet to see that rascal drop to the road and he would never sting another soul. The rest of the trip would be great. The lobster was excellent, the whales were exciting to see from a rubber boat that was smaller than them, and we all came back friends and would ride again. Adios Amigos!

Man of the Cloth

If you are known as a "man of the cloth", what are you without the cloth? When I moved to St. Marys I was a Presbyterian minister. My neighbor, Adrian, was a passionate fisherman and just a great all around guy. He invited me to go on a fishing outing with him. We launched his Pro Line boat downtown and headed out to sea. He had fished these waters all of his life and I knew we would be catching plenty of fish. But first things first. We had to catch our bait fish in order to haul in the big fish. Adrian had made his own live well which was attached to the ladder platform on the back of his boat. This was a unique small barrel with a hole in the bottom and hoses connected that could circulate water to keep the bait fish alive. He was proud of this contraption as well he should be.

We circled just off Cumberland Island throwing a cast net and hauling in the bait fish. When he was satisfied with the numbers we headed off shore to one of his favorite sites. It was a beautiful sunny day, warm but not too hot. It was just the two of us on the boat, the skipper and me. I pulled my shirt off to soak in the Rays as we headed to the deep waters. We skipped across the gentle rolling waves and found the rhythm of the sea. We were in harmony with the world. All was perfect until I looked back. I grabbed Adrian by the arm and hollered above the engine noise. His face showed the fright of the tragedy in progress. He quickly throttled back then went to neutral. I raced to the back of the boat to save what I could. It was awful, it could have been a total loss had it not been for our quick actions. Could it get any worse than this? And the answer was yes.

The hose on the bottom of his made up live well had come loose and the water had drained out of the tank. All of our bait fish were flopping around with no water. I immediately ran to the back of the boat, crawled up on the real gunnel and was leaning out the back of the boat. My arm was in the water and with the hose in hand I reattached the hose. Life saving water began flowing into the tank as the fish began swimming around. I was proud but only for a moment. A large wave hit the front of the boat lifting it skyward. The back of the boat dropped and flipped me out of the boat but as I was being catapulted from the boat, my bathing suit caught on the rear cleat. My bathing suit was ripped into as it was snatched off of me. Wow! There I was in the ocean "butt naked" and with a neighbor I barely knew, no pun intended. I was trying to swim to the rear of the boat. Adrian was laughing uncontrollably and of little help in this dire moment of my life. The water was crystal clear and I thought of sharks and barracudas. I wanted out of that water and did not want to be the bait for something bigger than me. The water was crystal clear for Adrian too, but he wasn't thinking of sharks or barracudas.

Adrian was finally able to get his laughter under control so that he could help get me in the boat. I ended up climbing up the motor because of his barrel on the ladder platform. The only thing worse than being in the water naked was standing in his boat naked. My bathing suit was gone. I had a shirt and a towel. He found a pair of worn out shorts that he used for a rag I think but I was mighty proud to wear them. When we got back home he told everyone it was no big thing, just another day on the water. We all laughed and ate our fried fish that supper. What was I without the cloth? Just a man who gets a good laugh when I think of fishing with Adrian, my buddy!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hard Landing on Hwy 40

I like to write about the funny stories in my life. But, life doesn't always give us humor to write about does it? This is about a flight I made two days before Thanksgiving, and how I almost made my destination. Jo Beth and I were hosting my family reunion on this particular year. My folks stopped by the airfield in Waycross on their way to my house in St. Marys. I was eager to show off my new plane, my first. It was red and yellow and I was showing them all the particulars and then I climbed in and fired her up. I made a short ground roll and pulled her up toward heaven. I didn't know how close I was to making that trip. I did a few maneuvers around the field, landed and sent my folks on to my home. I would now fly my plane to St. Marys, for the first time. I was only up in the air for a few stunts but I knew I needed to top off my fuel tank before I started that flight. I got excited when a friend wanted to make the flight part way with me in his plane. I didn't refuel, I wanted to, I needed too, but I didn't, mistake 1.
David and I took off in our two birds and flew side by side. We talked with each other by radio until my uncharged battery died. That was mistake number two in this flight. David talked with another pilot friend that was going to join him and fly back to Waycross. I didn't know about the other plane. David dropped down and flew to my right and landed in a small field. I thought he was in trouble so I turned and landed to check on him, mistake 3. I heard the third plane and watched him touch down not far from us. We were chatting when I saw big black clouds rolling our way. We said our goodbyes and climbed in our planes and took off. They headed west, I headed east but I had a big storm coming straight at me. I could see cars going straight into that wall of water and instantly disappear. I had to fly northeast to clear the storm. Why didn't I top my fuel tank off? I was worried as well I should be. I kept flying.
Just as I was approaching, Kingsland, I spotted a school just off to my right. Should I land there and call home? I looked at my fuel tank, it was low, but maybe I had enough gas to get me home. I only had fifteen miles to my runway. I kept flying. I was flying five hundred feet above Highway 40 and now I was within five miles of my runway. I should have been able to see the runway, but the sun had dropped below the horizon. I was cold and numb, there was no heater and no lights on my plane. I couldn't see my fuel level anymore, I was scared. The road was full of people trying to get home from a hard days work. The monotonous noise and vibration of my engine stopped. It was really quiet up there as I prepared my plane for an emergency landing. It was too dark now for any landing other than the road. I lined my plane up and continued my downward glide to earth.
With no lights and no working radio, I was going to surprise a whole lot of people. As I got within a hundred feet above the road I had seconds before touching down. I found an empty space between cars and maneuvered toward it when the sky lit up. The power lines that crossed the road were invisible to me until I hit them. A fireball raced across and through my plane. Steel cables and braces that held my wing and fuselage in place were melted like butter. One red hot broken cable caught the right side of my face and burned through the flesh. Other wires found my hands and knees burning through my gloves and jeans. Again, I was on fire as my crippled plane broke through the power lines sending wires across the highway and my left wing would strike the road first and crumble up like an accordion. My fuselage would be next as the nose plummeted to the asphalt slamming the left side of my face on the road before settling into a twisted piece of wreckage. I was still strapped in what was left of my cockpit. It was the worst day of my life! But in a twist of fate it had some great moments too.
As my plane had headed toward the ground I flew over a police car that captured my crash on camera. Behind the police car was an ambulance with full crew on board. To the side of the road was an African American Church where ladies were gathering for a prayer meeting. And of course all those cars stopped and no one hit my plane. The ladies from the church prayed as the EMT responders rushed to my plane. I was still burning from the wires and kicking and flailing my arms so they gave me a shot of morphine while I was still strapped in. My neck was in terrible pain but I had calmed down as the morphine took effect. They cut me out of the wreckage and placed me on a stretcher. A lady EMT was treating me when my cell phone rang. She answered it and when my daughter asked, what she was doing answering my phone, she handed the phone to the police officer next to me. He told her about my crash and that I was alive. Jo Beth was at the airport waiting for my overdue flight when she got the call.
I would be life flighted to Shands Hospital in Jacksonville. I had two cracked ribs, burns and cuts, severally damaged neck, and a whole lot of damaged pride followed by severe guilt over my stupidity. I would fly that route a thousand times in my mind saying why didn't you top off that tank. It would take years to overcome that crash or perhaps never. But I would fly again three weeks after the crash which really upset Jo Beth but not nearly as much as the plane I bought two months after the crash. My family all made it to my home for thanksgiving dinner and I made it home that day from the hospital to celebrate with them. After my recovery and many flights later my buddies would talk about the "Bird on a wire" and I was that Bird. I would fly for more than two thousand hours after the crash and own many airplanes. I never flew again without being mindful of a place to land just in case I couldn't reach my intended runway. The pain of this flight is over. I carry the scars on my face, hands, and knees and wear them proudly for they are my tattoos with a story. Thank you for flying with me. Let's fly again later! Now when did you make a mistake and have to pick yourself up? I'd like to hear about it!
Welcome to Greg Bird's Book of Stories

Hello and thank you for visiting my Book.  As I have reached the golden years of my life, I now have the time to share some of my journey through a changing world.  In my mind I'm still a young man and I have a passion for life.  I'm married to my high school sweetheart and we now have over forty-four years of experience in that endeavor.  Neither of us is perfect, nor is our marriage, but we sure are happy.  I married, Jo Beth, when she was seventeen.  Her father made me wait until she graduated from high school before we could marry; a reasonable request as I look back on it.  We have learned the wants and needs of each other and I'd like to think we have learned to disagree with each other with a  minimum disruption of our fondness for each other.  Our two children have grown up, gotten married, and now have two children of their own.  It is neat to watch them walk the paths of life just as we did many years ago.

Some people call me a 'Jack of all trades' because of all the jobs I have had.  Others say, he can't hold a job.  Perhaps both parties are right but it sure gives me a lot to write about.  I've made mistakes along the way, of course, but I don't know of any job that hasn't helped shape who I am and how I see this great world we live in.  Some of the jobs I've had are:  lawn care, soft drink production (Coca-Cola), US Army (helicopter communications and navigations specialist), retail sales, insurance sales, real estate sales, hog farmer, tree farmer, middle school teacher, Presbyterian minister, politician, radio disc jockey, entertainer and singer, contractor, and a few others but I don't want to look like I can't keep a job.  To me, life is an adventure and I'm still traveling down new paths and crossing old ones along the way.  I hope, as you read some of my stories, you will remember some of yours and that it  brings a smile and perhaps a tear on occasion.  Read on, my new friend!