“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
If Emerson had not lived and died in the 1800s, I would have sworn he was writing his success credo about Bill Cameron. Cameron takes the very first one of these points and lives it full-tilt.
He always has a story, a great joke, a wry observation to bring laughter to the moment. I find myself chuckling hours or even days later, prompted by something Cameron has said.
Many times, I have been told by various people, “You need to write a column about Bill Cameron!” I have always agreed, while asking, “But how would I do him justice with just a few words?”
Our rural community tried to do just that on a recent Saturday. A few good people got their heads together and cooked up a great surprise 70th birthday party for him. More than 200 people turned out, waiting anxiously for his arrival.
He had been told the gathering was for a belated wedding reception for a young man he knows well. The couple who picked him up and had helped plan the big day, Wayne and Sandy Bartter, went so far as to have a wrapped gift for the newlyweds lying on the back seat.
The astounded look on Cameron’s face when he arrived to a crowd singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him told us all that this was perhaps the best-kept secret in the history of our little town.
All of my life, I have listened to great Bill Cameron stories. A good friend to my dad, the two men had a lot in common. When Bill stopped by, the conversation was lively. They shared an ornery competition over who grew the best weed-free, bug-free corn, planted the straightest rows, carried the biggest harvest braggin’ rights, owned the right color of tractors.
Both had deep roots in this small farming community, and agriculture was steeped in their bones. More than that, they were happy with their place in the world. Cameron never saw the need to leave in pursuit of anything else.
A poster made for this birthday celebration shows a blonde toddler Cameron and a wry quote of his appears beneath it. “When I grow up I intend to travel, exploring all of Jeromesville. Heck, maybe even all of Mohican Township!”
Stories of his old car with a very few thousand miles on it speaks volumes of just how happy this man is to have been planted in his hometown. John Deere green certainly runs through his veins, and on top of crop farming, for many years he managed his dairy herd along with his wife Karen and son Fred.
“Do you miss milking cows?” I once asked Bill. “Yes, ” he answered seriously, his head bent low for emphasis. “About as much as a bad case of appendicitis.”
A fellow could be in the worst mood of a lifetime, and a chance encounter with Bill Cameron could bring a smile and more likely a good, hearty belly laugh sure to turn a gray day completely around.
Though he has always worked hard, he’s never too busy to take a little extra time with the true sourpuss, asking if he’s grouchy because his ice cream is too cold. His wit is as sharp as his memory, and he uses it to humor all of us in this community.
Hollywood might have a whole host of comedians, but the great thing for those of us lucky enough to be born under the same patch of sky as Bill Cameron is we don’t have to travel or pay a single red cent for great entertainment.
Like a fine wine, this is one character who just keeps getting better with age.