There was a time, some 65 years ago in this rural part of northwest Florida, when two boys of 9 or 10 could ride their bicycles absolutely everywhere: from their moms’ and dads’ modest frame houses on the outskirts of town all the way to Escambia Bay. One of those boys was Buck. He had a big fur ball of a bad-ass half Chow dog named Jeff who would snarl and scrabble beside them all the way. Jeff was jumped on and half killed by a nasty piece of canine work when he was just a puppy, and it twisted his view of the universe. He grew up loyal as a river to his boy, but inventively cruel to other dogs along their bicycle route. Those who lived learned to slink under the porch and cower in the dirt whenever Jeff approached.
Buck’s friend from the cradle was Billy Bass. They fished the river, the bay and the bayous together, liberated watermelons to float them down at Jenny’s Hole in spring-fed Carpenter’s Creek, and many a morning sneaked into other people’s woods to hunt squirrels with their 22 rifles.
Oh, they were tough customers, all right. Still and all, they were just little boys on the day they came upon a whole pile of balloon-looking things deep in the woods. Looked like something fun to play with, so they grabbed up several and brought them home to Billy Bass’s yard. They took his mother’s hose, washed out the strange balloons, filled them with water, tied knots in the end, and were having a big time hitting each other over the head when Mrs. Bass came out of the house to see what was going on. She looked from the boys to the remaining still-sticky, shriveled-up balloons piled on the grass. The boys were too busy laughing and carrying on to notice that Mrs. Bass had gone red in the face.
“Billy Bass!” Mrs. Bass shouted. “You get in the house right now! And Buck Westmark? You get out of my yard and don’t you never come back!”
It took the “boys” a while to figure out what they had done that made Mrs. Bass so durn mad. And I guess when they did, it signaled the end of one phase of their innocent young lives. No harm done, though, and the re-telling of the old yarn had a bunch of us in stitches when Bill hosted his annual Mullet Fry and Museum Tour at his place over on Avalon Beach. It’s a gathering of Pensacola High School Class of 1954 alumni. Buck graduated in 1955, but has been officially adopted by the ’54 gang.
Despite that ignominious, hilarious boyhood incident, William Henry Bass grew up to be just about the busiest and best accountant in Pensacola. He’s also an amateur archeologist, raconteur, and collector of just about everything, most especially one of the country’s finest vintage Thunderbird collections. And I guess old Buck did all right, too. I know he wishes his Dad could have lived to see him amount to something, from a working journalist (reporter, editor and publisher), to director of public affairs for a major corporation, to Chairman of a local bank board, and author. Both men are dads, granddads, and great-granddads. Bill’s been a widower for a long time, now, and Buck’s got me.
This sweet car has been in parades all over the county. It has all original parts, and is a real beauty. You can see some of the trophies and penants it’s won adorning the wall’s of the climate-controlled garage Bill had constructed for his babies.
There were close to a hundred people gathered up at Bill’s place on this Saturday afternoon. It was unseasonably hot, and the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife and spread it on a biscuit. The fish were fried in a huge cooker under a shelter. We all made it inside just in time before the rain broke loose. Lord, I’ve never seen so much food in my life. And I was raised a Southern Baptist with Mississippi relatives, so I know something about legendary covered dish meals. This one topped all the ones I waded through as a little girl. Folks sat at folding tables set up all over the house. We took our plates out to the front porch, which provided a steady breeze and shelter from the straight-down curtain of rain.
Our good friends, Roy and Bette Helms, had driven up from Naples for the event. Here’s Bette with Elvis, the meet and greet guy at the door. Bill has collected a dizzying array of memorabilia from the 1950’s (mostly). Take his “Marilyn” wall. More like a shrine, really, don’t you think?
The afternoon had all the earmarks of a hurricane party. No hurricane, but the trees bending low in the wind blowing off the bay, and the sometimes sideways rain sure gave a good imitation. When it slacked off for a few minutes, I grabbed my empty baked bean casserole dish and we took our shot and ran for the car.
The three in the foreground are Buck, Bill and Roy , three guys who have made it from childhood running buddies to lifelong close friends. Grand men, these. Grand.