“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”— Cesare Pavese, Italian Poet 1908-1950
The best part of life is the people we meet living it. We mark years by moments, but time often marks moments by the people we meet.
Memories of meeting stars, celebrities, and famous people are special. But sitting and watching the sun go down some evenings, it’s people like Lee “Salty” Aycock from Avinger, Texas, I often think of. During the 1967 spring semester at Kilgore College, we were neighbors at the Leigh apartments just north of the campus on a hill behind the highway 259 Enco station at North Street.
A convenience store has since replaced the service station, the apartments and a huge oak on the parking lot that furnished afternoon shade for a gallery of lawn chair observers: college guys swapping embellished stories about fast cars and pretty girls while scanning the busy street’s traffic for both.
Lawn chair regulars included three ’66 MPHS classmates, Ronnie Lilly and I who shared #9 at the Leigh, and frequent visitor Mike Williams. Doors were often open welcoming all in search of socialization that was most often found a few doors down from #9 where Salty lived.
Salty was a big, soft-spoken, easy-going kind of guy; tall and broad-shouldered, looking more like a refugee from the athletic dorm. Few bothered him mostly because of his size, but few had issues with him anyway because he was a friend to everyone.
Another regular was Dugan, as everyone called him. Lost to time is whether he was a resident at the Leigh or a frequent visitor, but I remember he was Salty’s friend. Also foggy is Dugan’s first name, but I want to think it was Robert. I do remember that he was smaller, quiet, and by nature a little more excitable, but also good-natured, never causing any problems … which is more than can be said for some of the rest of us. Like the night when someone who shall remain nameless out of concern for legal statutes of limitation thought it a swell idea to have a laugh on Dugan. Hiding a “track starter’s gun” loaded with blanks, that unnamed someone walked into a spade game at Salty’s apartment alleging Dugan had been seen with his girlfriend.
Leaned against the wall in his chair, Dugan surveyed his cards without looking up and leisurely responded, “You’re crazy, man, I haven’t seen your girlfriend.”
The “shooter” swung the pistol around and said, “I don’t believe you!” Dugan looked up just in time to see the flash and hear the shot ring loud enough for three blocks in all directions. Cards, glasses, feet, chairs—they were all flying as people hit the floor. Dugan, certain he was mortally wounded, tumbled out of the inclined chair in a lasting image of cowboy boots going up in the air.
It was over as quickly as it had started, but amid a cacophony of cursing, crying, and screaming, Salty just sat silently smiling, surveying the situation. After convincing Dugan it would be a good thing for him to resume breathing soon, he calmly suggested to the jokesters that they had done a really stupid thing—“funny, yes,” he added with a chuckle, “but not very smart.”
Remarkably, no one called the police, and the card game resumed after Salty declared, “Don’t worry about it, everybody’s OK, just get this place cleaned up so we can play cards.”
Another testament to Salty’s easy going nature was the time I aided him in completing a term paper for one of his classes with which he was struggling. I felt horrible when he told me the paper earned him a C. “Don’t worry about it,” he consoled me with his same trademark smile. “The teacher told me the paper deserved an A, but she gave me a C ‘cause she could tell I didn’t write it—which is better than the F that I would’ve gotten without your help.”
Fast forward some 35 years to Center’s performing arts series featuring a bluegrass band from Avinger. During intermission, the purchase of a CD and an inquiry about my old schoolmate and Avinger friend, Lee Aycock elicited a smiling response from one of the musicians. “You went to school with Salty? He’s still in Avinger … everybody knows Salty!”
I was reminded that it was about this time last year when Salty passed away when I ran across his obit in a desk drawer last week. I didn’t know it at the time until Mike Williams’ email informed me of his attending the memorial service. I also didn’t know things about Salty I learned from his obit, things like his running the family business in Avinger, A&P Home and Auto, before working for the school district as a custodian where he retired after 25 years. “Salty made many lifelong friendships and memories …” the obit with his picture wearing a cowboy hat read.
I don’t recall him wearing a hat back then, but the face in the photo was the same soft-spoken, “don’t worry about it,” face I remembered from Kilgore College more than 50 years ago. It was a time and place where the people I met, like Salty, marked the “somewhat less than scholastic, but a lot more fun” moments at Kilgore College.
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Wishing all mothers a safe and happy Mother’s Day this weekend. I’m remembering my mom, Indianola “Inky” Aldridge, who we’ve missed every day since we lost her in December of 2010. Mom knew about most of my friends, including Salty, although she never met him. She knew them because I shared a lot with her. For the record, I did not share the above story about the “shooting” with her. I never told her because there are some things I am convinced a mother would just as soon not know.
(Photo credits – top of the page: the “Ranger” 1967, Kilgore College yearbook, Kilgore, Texas. Lee “Salty” Aycock – Haggard Funeral Home obituary, Jefferson, Texas)
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