I never saw a picture of him, but listening as his mother described him, I began to see. Trying to picture him was like trying to decide what a character in a favorite book should look like.
“Bigfoot” is a telling nickname, and it’s printed down the vertical beam of a cross that stands just south of Holly Springs, off Highway 78, on the slope of a hill, where the tall grass disappears into a forest of pine and oak.
Not long after speaking on the phone with his mother, Beverly, I rode by the cross, and in the afternoon sunlight, which early this week had begun to turn the kinder, honey-color of fall, I imagined Barry Dale Sims thundering by on his motorcycle.
He stood more than six feet tall, weighed some 300 pounds and wore a size 15, 4 E boot.
“He was like a great, big old football player,” Beverly said.
On the morning of July 4, 2009, after working the night shift, Barry, who turned 40 in the spring, left his house in Smithville and joined some friends for a barbecue in Amory.
It was the kind of day Barry lived for, filled with food, friends and patriotism. As he enjoyed himself, his mother watched television reports of an impending storm.
Late that evening, Barry and two friends drove to Memphis to watch a fireworks display.
Shortly before dawn, on their way back, they stopped for coffee in Holly Springs. Just south of town, in the midst of a downpour, Barry lost control of his Dodge pickup. His two friends made it. He didn’t.
As I watched Barry’s cross disappear in the rearview mirror of my truck, I imagined him as a child. I saw him play wrestling with his father, a man who, by Beverly’s account, was a gruff but loving man. Like so many Vietnam veterans, who laid their emotional well-being on the altar of their country, Barry’s father struggled to express affection and to let anyone really know him.
“Wrestling was his way of holding his boys in his arms,” Beverly said of he ex-husband.
I tried to picture Kevin, the younger boy, whom his mother buried nine years before Barry.
Kevin was a musician, a teacher, a big boy, like his brother. When Beverly brought Kevin home from the hospital, Barry treated him almost like a pet, like something of his very own.
Kevin died from complications from surgery. He was only 27.
“This was nobody’s fault,” Beverly told me as she looked through some of Barry things – a pair of black, leather motorcycle boots, a compact disc of songs he’d written, a black, button-up work shirt, big enough to cover the expanse of his massive shoulders.
As I drove north on 78, I rolled the window down and felt the rush of the warm wind on my face, a feeling Barry must have enjoyed on his bike.
I thought of him going on a charity run with the Dream Riders, the group of them rumbling, like a Mongolian cavalry, toward some place like Crystal Springs or Eldridge, Alabama.
I imagined Barry, on that last night of his life, watching an array of fireworks. I saw the bright blasts exploding with a muted pop and falling in cascades of silver and blue light, the colors coalescing and reaching downward, like the tentacles of a luminous jellyfish, stretching toward the broad, dark expanse of the river.
“I would have loved grandchildren,” Beverly said, with a tremor in her voice. “But, I loved my boys, and oh, how they loved their family.”
“God puts us here for a purpose,” she said. “And, when that purpose is accomplished, he calls us home.”
She paused, then added, “I would have loved to have my boys here … for 150 years.”
Contact religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal