Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hill Country Stories Told in Stone: ROBERT DARRYL BIRD, BARITONE --- and FRIEND

by Terry Thornton
email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com

In the late 1940s or very early 1950s, a two-headed calf was born on a small farm between Grub Toe and Splunge. Several of the older folks in the Hill Country considered that two-headed creature a bad omen, saying that bad things would happen.

I didn't get to see the two-headed calf which died several days after its birth. But bad things started happening to the family who owned the cow who gave birth to the two-headed creature. I don't believe in signs and portents --- but some do.
When I was nearly ten years old, I met a kid just about my age (actually he was five months younger) from Splunge. He was bigger than I --- and it was obvious even at that early age he was gonna grow into a large and muscular man.

His name was Darryl Bird. I thought it funny that he was a "bird" as he was the first Bird I ever met.

He came to Thornton Gristmill at Parham with his father, Elmer Bird. My father and Mr. Bird were friends --- and they had a lot to discuss while the Bird's corn was ground into cornmeal because Mr. Bird was planning to build a grocery store and house combination at

It didn't take long for Darryl and me to become acquainted as he was one of those
gifted people who has the knack of making those around him feel at ease --- but it wasn't until high school when he was on the go with a Chevy convertible that we really became friends. As soon as he could drive he was always passing through Parham, stopping at Thornton Store, and often taking me and Sherman, my brother, with him to basketball games, to the movies at Amory, or most fun of all, to the roller skating rink at Aberdeen.

Darryl attended different public schools than the ones I went to --- but on occasion we would show up at the same singing schools in the summer. Grubtoe Church was within walking distance of his house --- and I remember him attending that singing school on a regular basis. After I started to junior college, Darryl, a year behind me, appeared at registration at Itawamba Junior College.

He was so large that the football coaches spotted him and recruited him for the IJC team. Darryl ended up, for a while, on a football scholarship although he had never played football before. His high school, Smithville, didn't have a football team so Darryl didn't know the game --- but there he was on a college football team.

Darryl was very popular on campus and his musical talents were much appreciated in choral ensembles, chorus, and other endeavors. I remember my sophomore year when I was cast as "Brock Weaver" to sing the lead tenor in Weill and Sundgaard's folk opera, Down in the Valley, how delighted I was to learn that Darryl was cast to sing the baritone role of "Thomas Bouche," the villain of the piece.

Our paths continued to cross. During my final year at Ole Miss, Darryl began his junior year of college --- but our paths were starting to diverge. In December 1961, however, he participated in Sweetie's and my wedding singing two vocal solos at the service at the United Methodist Church at Belden, Mississippi.

On occasion I would run into Darryl when I was at Ole Miss working on my master's degree in science. During the summer of 1962, Sweetie, Darryl and his sweetheart, and I spent several memorable days together talking and renewing friendships --- but gradually our paths took us in differing directions and to different places --- and then I got the sad word in 1971 that he was killed in an accident.

Marker 165a, Crenshaw Cemetery, Darryl Bird

Robert Darryl Bird is buried at Crenshaw Cemetery among his people --- his father Elmer V. Bird --- his grandmother and grandfather George D. Bird and Minnie P. Ballard Bird and his great-grandmother Ella Ballard lie beside him along with other assorted relatives. Crenshaw Cemetery is located between Splunge and Greenwood Springs on Splunge Road, Monroe County, Mississippi.

Two favorite songs I enjoyed hearing Darryl sing were Ol' Man River by Kern and Hammerstein and For His Eye is on the Sparrow and I Know He Watches Me by Martin and Gabriel. I never stop by Darryl's grave at Crenshaw Cemetery without humming some of the melody from His Eye is On the Sparrow.

Darryl graduated from Smithville High School in 1958; he attended Itawamba Community College and the University of Mississippi. He drove a red Chevy convertible. Darryl was a gentle giant of a man who is sorely missed.

Robert Darryl Bird was born in 1939 and he died in 1971. His mother is Allene Bird Gilliland.

Marker 165c, Crenshaw Cemetery, Elmer Bird

Darryl's father, Elmer V. Bird was born in 1910 and died in 1952. The store-house building was almost complete when he died. Darryl and his mother lived in the house portion of that building for several years --- and the building survives at the intersection of Splunge-Greenwood Springs Road and Lann Cemetery Road. Mrs. Bird married Clinton Gilliland; he died in 1962.

The only reference I find to ELMER V. BIRD on the census is the 1920 Monroe County Mississippi report. Elmer, Darryl's father, is listed in the Sipsey Valley Road, Greenwood Springs Precinct, household of his father GEORGE D. BIRD (29, born Tennessee), his mother MINNIE P. BIRD (27, born Mississippi), and his grandmother ELLA BALLARD (59, born Mississippi). In 1920, Elmer was listed as 9 years of age born Mississippi.

All four of these Bird family members are buried at Crenshaw Cemetery --- Ella Ballard died in 1940; Elmer Bird died in 1952; Minnie Bird died in 1968; George Bird died in 1971; and Darryl Bird died in 1971.

Marker 165, Crenshaw Cemetery. Bird Family


Bird Family Census information, 1920 Monroe County Mississippi Census. Images available online through Heritage Quest. Accessed via Lee-Itawamba County Library, August 27, 2009.

Bird Grave Markers, Crenshaw Cemetery, Monroe County, Mississippi. Photographs by Terry Thornton, Fulton, Mississippi, April 14, 2009. Marker location numbers from Terry Thornton's Transcription of Crenshaw Cemetery CD, 2009.


No comments: