I was driving across the George Tapper Bridge this week, listening to a Faron Young tape, thinking about nothing as usual when it hit me—I knew George Tapper!

Ye goodness, just think how old you must be to have actually known the person they’ve named a bridge after!

            And I didn’t read about Mr. Tapper in some book. Or hear stories about his early days on a motorcycle. Or see him once at a distance.

            I’ve been to his house. We talked golf and high school football. He regaled me with stories of the Florida Senate. He encouraged me once to run for a political office…..and gave me money and support when I decided to give it a try.

            Now, don’t misunderstand here, this is not about name dropping or whom I met or who I used to know. It’s the cold water in the face when you realize you’ve stopped to smell the flowers……and they’ve wilted a bit!

            You name bridges after people like Alvin C. York, George Washington and Will Rogers. All long gone! Let’s be proud of their accomplishments. We should certainly appreciate the special note and lasting memorial given to them. But it sure doesn’t bode well for your life expectancy to have been a pal of the honoree!  

            I drove through the Billy Joe Rish State Park just last week. It’s the same thing. And listen, I didn’t know Billy Joe kinda toward the end of his career. He entered me in the tobacco spitting contest at the Bay County Fair when I was twenty-one years old. He gave me advice and wise counsel on more occasions than I can count. We were once partners in a land purchase. And let me tell you, he could chew me out like a mad football coach at the error prone freshman if he deemed it necessary. We were friends for forty years!

            He musta been about fourteen when they named the park after him.

            I grew up on Stonewall Street. We just naturally assumed it was named after the famous Civil War general. And it had a much better “ring” to it than High Street. Or Magnolia Avenue. I don’t mind them naming anything after anybody. It gives the bridge, park or street a personality…..a life of its own. And I think it is pretty neat to remember people that have made a lasting and memorable contribution in such a way. I’d just rather not think of the ramifications of being on a first name basis with the designee! 

            When you turn off Interstate 40 heading toward McKenzie, Tennessee, you pretty quickly find yourself on the Dale Kelly Highway. Dale is in the Carroll County, Bethel College and Tennessee Sports Halls of Fame. He was a basketball official in the SEC for years and worked several NCAA playoffs, including three Final Four tournaments. He’s also been the Mayor of Huntingdon forever and is just an all around good guy.

            And yep, you guessed it. I got to know him when he played both basketball and baseball at Bethel. And we played baseball one summer together on that old ball field down by the fairgrounds. Dale was a super teammate who could flat out hit. And we actually won a slew of games that summer. I’m not exactly sure of the year. But Davy Crockett was our centerfielder.  

            Dale is exactly the kind of guy you ought to name a road after. I am so proud for him. And his accomplishments are truly remarkable, especially when you consider he’s almost one hundred years older than me!

            I could go on but you get the idea.

            The sands of time are not dripping out of that hour glass! Nowhere is that more obvious than when the town fathers throw a name up on the public building that you used to eat lunch with. Or you bought a car from him. Or taught him when he was in high school.

            I’m growing weary of all the reminders.

            My back doesn’t turn like it used to. My arms are a shell of their former selves. I walk into a room and look around, knowing I came in here for something…… My hearing is still pretty strong, everybody is just whispering these days. And my eyesight is as good as ever….if you stand real close.   

            Of course, it could be worse. A couple of years back, the doctors were pouring over my brother’s case, trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with him. And they were having a difficult time of it. Leon was growing weaker and they could find no cause. After about six months, he called me up. “You know the bad part about this. They are gong to name some new disease after me.”

            I’ll take the bridge every time.