Sonny could be hard-headed. Sonny could exasperate people. Sonny could make patient people who tried to help him throw up their hands in despair.
Then they'd look at ol' Sonny and help him again.
Sonny did what he wanted, when he wanted. If he wanted to sleep under a tarp in some woods, that is what he did. If he wanted to collect cans to redeem for a few bucks, he did that.
Mostly, what Sonny wanted to do was walk. For hours or days. To go wherever he wanted to go, or to get nowhere in particular.
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Through the glass of car windows zooming past on Lesslie Highway or U.S. 21 on the southeastern side of Rock Hill, in brutal heat or freezing rain, that old solitary figure puffing a pipe had a name.
The name was Sonny.
Sonny's real name was William Cameron, and he was called that by somebody somewhere in years gone past.
But the world that stopped to help him or give him coffee and a sausage biscuit, or a sandwich or a couple dollars or a place to stay or to soothe his cancer-ridden body as he slipped toward death at 64, he was Sonny.
They called him Sonny on Wednesday in the tiny octagonal chapel during a rainstorm at Hospice and Community Care, where Sonny lived his last days until he died without a word just before midnight on Sept. 24.
In that chapel, 23 people sat, heads bowed, and they talked of a man so many had seen walking, called a bum by so many. A man these people had come to know in the last few years walked until he could walk no more, and then he lay down and died.
Billy Thomas Sr., who runs the scales at the scrapyard where Sonny would bring his cans for so long, is a gentle, decent man. His wife and family were there, honoring Sonny.
Billy Thomas Sr. was still in his striped work shirt. This is a family that knows work and love - and what it means to act on it, not just say it.
The crane operator at the scrapyard is a quiet, wonderful soul named Billy Thomas Jr., who, along with his wife, Ashley, helped Sonny as much as Sonny would let them.
"I just did what I thought I should do," said Billy Thomas Jr. "He was Sonny."
There were Jennifer Bass and Nikki Schmid, two ladies from the BP store at the intersection of Lesslie Highway and U.S. 21. That's where Sonny went almost every morning to get the free coffee and biscuit and sometimes the free sandwich from the Subway people inside.
"We loved Sonny," said Bass.
Angie Oneppo brought her daughter. "I was Sonny's friend," she said plainly.
There were hospice workers and volunteers who had spent the last six months of Sonny's life bandaging his face after surgery. Helping him live the six months doctors gave him because that cancer was terminal, then helping him die with the dignity that allowed him to wear his boots in case he wanted to go for a walk.
Dave Lieb and Kristen Kull and Rhonda Marthers and Priscilla Land from hospice, who all talked of Sonny walking down the road - at times with a walker - straight down Lesslie Highway, even toward the end.
"A gentleman, always," said Land, the social worker. "Walking, always."
"Chasing him down when he was walking was part of the job," said Marthers, the nurse. "He grew to love us, and we loved him."
Even when Sonny was hard to love. If Sonny was in a bad mood, he might grumble, then thank a person for a ride or a dollar, then go on.
One of the people who spoke at Sonny's memorial service was Ronnie Aiton, who runs a ministry called Kids for Jesus. Aiton drives a bus that picks up hundreds of kids and takes them to church functions.
Aiton, about 5 feet tall, is famous around Rock Hill for that bus.
"I got to know Sonny, gave him rides and picked him up, never knew him as nothin' but Sonny," Aiton said. "I found out he grew up on the mill hill, worked at the long-gone Industrial Mill just like the rest of us Rock Hill boys."
For so many people who are homeless, the choice not to stay with family is part of the reason. Sonny lived for decades on Furr Street, said his sister-in-law and longtime next-door neighbor, Sherry Cameron. Sonny's only surviving relatives are his brother, Steve, Steve's wife, Sherry, and their kids and grandkids.
Sonny had no children, and one marriage decades ago only lasted a few months.
And although Sonny took more than one drink in his life, he was no criminal. He had just one traffic violation his whole life.
"Sonny, for years, always worked; he was at the mill, he worked cutting grass, he worked as a janitor," Sherry Cameron said. "He was good to us. We stayed with him for years before we got our place."
Sonny let his house go, and it eventually was condemned. Yet Sonny always had a home with his brother and his family - it was just that Sonny chose not to take up the offer sometimes.
"When Sonny left his house, he just walked off down the road," Sherry Cameron said. "He could be hard-headed. That was Sonny. We loved Sonny and he loved us. But Sonny did what he wanted. That was Sonny."
People saw Sonny along the road for years. Some helped. Most didn't.
The last few months before the cancer, Billy Thomas Jr. had found a small apartment on Lesslie Highway for Sonny. After Sonny was diagnosed with cancer on his face and given six months to live, hospice stepped in.
That's where he met Land, the social worker, and all the rest, adding to his circle of care started by Billy and Ashley Thomas, and the people at the store and others who did not look past the shuffling old man with the pipe.
Kids at the Thomases' church sent Sonny cards after he was admitted to hospice, the place on India Hook Road where the terminally ill live out their last days. Sonny was in Room 12, the last days too sick to talk.
One card read: "To Sonny, from God. Get well soon."
There were cards with tiny handprints on them and notes from people who had seen him on the street. Tom Ferrara was one of those people. Ferrara came to the memorial service.
"I saw him on the street, driving by, and I just wanted to come," Ferrara said.
At that memorial service, Lee Dye, the hospice preacher, read a prayer that Ashley Thomas had written. She was too distraught to read it herself. It stated, in words that could have come from Sonny himself:
"You may have passed me on the street and said a prayer for me. You may have brought me something to eat. You may have left money for me at a place I was at. I never asked for anything, I was a simple man with simple needs.
"But your love for me has brought me to my Savior's feet. Now I am walking through the streets of gold in awesome wonder. My mansion is far more glorious than I have ever known. I wanted to let you know your love for me has been shown."
And when that service was over, as the rain poured down, these people brought together by a stranger named Sonny laughed about his walking. They laughed about his boots.
"It was just like the Nancy Sinatra song," Lieb from hospice said. "These boots were made for walking."
These 23 people did not pass Sonny by. They stopped. And they all said, from the tiniest kids to the preacher Lee Dye, that they were glad they stopped.
Sonny, somehow, in his grouchy ways at times, had touched their lives and hearts.
"I only knew Sonny the last days of his life, and I found out he spent some time as a homeless man out there in our world," Dye said. "What I found is that Sonny had an insight into the fragility of life, that he saw first-hand the cold, warped hatred toward people out in the street.
"But he also experienced the bright potential of human love. What Sonny would tell the world is, 'Smile, open your eyes, love, and go on.'"
They all said, echoing Ronnie Aiton from the Kids for Jesus ministry, that Sonny was walking in heaven. Aiton had sat with Sonny, a few days before he died, and in some of the last words Sonny ever said, he became a Christian.
"I was there, he meant it," AIton said. "He was a man who accepted what he was and accepted the Lord right there."
All these people said Sonny no longer walked on that hard pavement of his life, the cracked roads, the horns honking at him, the teenagers throwing cans at him that he would pick up and cash in for change.
Today, they know, he walks streets of gold.