Tiny Town, USA – Bill Carson was one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He was swift to remind anyone that he hadn't always been the quiet, well mannered fellow I'd gotten to know. I met him probably a decade or more ago and he was one of those people who had the ability to suffer in silence. And he suffered quite a bit and never bitched about it.
It doesn't matter where I met Bill, "Jersey Bill" as I later called him.
He reminded me of the men my father might have worked alongside; there was a saltiness in that gravelly voice and his accent was unmistakably Jersey. He often wore a watch cap and combed his hair straight back a la Bogart. When we first met, I pegged him for a longshoreman. I was wrong, but the impression was accurate.
His rugged face was marked by the tough years he'd spent earlier in his life and ... it's odd the stories you remember about a person.
At one point Bill was having a tough time with his health and I asked him what the heck was the matter.
"I can't eat salt no more," he opined. "The doctor told me to quit it."
Turns out Bill loved salt and his grief over the loss of this essential food sticks in my mind because I love salt, too.
Before I eat anything, I grab the salt. Bill was like that and we spoke of how unfair it was that life would take away the simple blessing of table salt from a man. We traded stories of the things we liked to salt, and our mutual love of soy sauce. Bill had sacrificed a number of pleasures in his life, but to take away his salt seemed criminal. He wasn't complaining: He was shocked and aggrieved about this loss but "ya gotta do what ya gotta do," he said.
I hope he got to cheat a little with the stuff that built the pyramids and keeps Cargill in the stock exchange. But if he lost the salt and abided by the doctor's opinion, he never lost his saltiness. That was bred in the bone.
And this silly story is what I remember right now about Bill. There are dozens of other vignettes from my time in his presence – a lot of stories. Since he moved, I've missed hearing his common salutation for me: "How ya doin, kiddo?" I was always glad to see him; and, he made me feel that he too, Jersey Bill, was always glad to see me. It was an honor to be his friend.
When he left for North Carolina a while back, I wished for him a nice long retirement minus the foul winters that whipsawed his health, which was fragile.
Deep down, I also felt that I'd be lucky if I ever saw him again.
That longing passed with Bill this week, although the pang of loss will be deeply felt for a spell I cannot reckon the length of. He wouldn't want me to get too fancy with a tribute or elevate him above the sober place he worked so hard to occupy.
You should know this, though: A great good man has left us. Maybe you don't know it, but the world is a better place for having had Bill Carson living in it for a while.
Franklin Crawford, a friend of "Jersey Bill"