I had just pulled up the driveway, walked through the door with arms full of stuff and immediately carried it all down the hall to drop it in a closet. I turn and walk back down the hall and there is Bill Cooper sitting at the kitchen counter.
“Coop, where did you come from?”
“Saw you come into town and thought I’d see what you were up to,” he said matter-of-factly.
That was my friend Coop. He knew he didn’t have to knock. My house was his house.
The Journal was much the same. The front counter was for customers. Coop was like staff. He walked straight in, go see if there was anything in the fridge, maybe forage through the mail, and quite often come sit at a desk and pull out an old bound volume and just start turning pages.
When I met my late wife Lisa and moved to Bruce, Coop was one of the first friends I made. He took me in immediately as if I had lived here for decades, before I ever started working here at the CCJ.
Not long after we started making road trips together, often to high school football games. After joining the family at The Journal, I covered Vardaman football exclusively for many years and Coop would often jump in and ride along. He was a former teacher/coach at Vardaman and the two of us shared in our affection for the school and a love for George and Becky Thomas. I never saw Mrs. Becky that she didn’t ask me about Coop, and every time he talked to her he would say, “Mrs. Becky asked about you.”
One of our favorite trips was the All Star football game in Jackson each summer. We went a decade with at least one Calhoun County player in the game every year so Coop and I would make a trip out of it. Our favorite “haunt,” as he liked to call it, was the Cherokee Inn. We never left hungry and it was always affordable, which was up Coop’s alley.
Knight’s Drive-Inn at Amory was another frequent stop. Coop always wanted to go to the Vardaman game at Smithville so we could stop at Knight’s for one of their giant country fried steak sandwiches.
Coop’s calls late at night when he had some news to share were legendary. Lisa would spot the caller ID and yell at me from across the house, “your buddy’s on the phone!” It was always useful information.
Coop seemed to know everything, which made him a treasure to sit by at the “Bad Table” at Bruce Rotary for nearly two decades. And heaven help you if you came to Rotary with a program that went a little long or didn’t fit his interests. Coop would let you know with some deep sighs building to audible “Let’s go,” at any pause in the speaking.
Every year about this time Coop and I would deliver the Christmas boxes for the Rotary Club. We, or rather I, would fill my vehicle with all the food boxes it would hold and we would hit the county roads to go make deliveries. Coop knew everybody we visited and all their family too. And he cared.
Despite the rough exterior and the sometimes biting tongue, Coop didn’t hold much back when he had something to say, he loved his community. He loved his girls, Lylla and Yancy, and spoke of them often. His uncle Jesse Yancy Jr. was like a mythical figure in his life. He loved his brother Bob like nobody else. He cherished his friends.
If Bill Cooper took you in as one of his friends, you had it made. I haven’t the slightest idea what I did to be so fortunate, but I’m incredibly grateful.