I should have moved quicker. But I lingered a little too long picking up snacks and Dr. Pepper in the little store in the bend of the big curve on Hwy. 165 at Riverton. I almost never caught up with Byron Rogers in his old Chevy pickup. A group of us were heading to the deep woods of Caldwell Parish some decades ago and while I knew where to turn off the main highway, I wasn’t sure which of the dozen or so gravel roads to turn right or left on. I had never been where we were going. There were no cell phones in those days. No GPS.
Fortunately, there was still a little wisp of dust from the pickup truck caravan in front of me on the gravel roads and I made it to the “camp”, which was just a clearing on the edge
of the hardwood bottom. We had a great weekend. Shot squirrels. Ate squirrels. Told lies. And watched our backs. Byron was never one for shying away from putting a vienna sausage in your squirrel mulligan or hiding your No. 8 shot right before the hunt.
Such was the way of the outdoor activities that I pursued with my old Forrest Street neighbor in Bastrop. I’m sad recalling all those memories this weekend. Don’t get me wrong. The memories are all happy. I’m sad that Byron passed away late last week. I know he’s in a better place and I’m glad for his family that he isn’t suffering. But he’s gonna be missed.
I just hope those Angels are ready for him. Always the quiet practical joker, they better watch their backs.
I recall my one visit to the little “Blue House”, a camp that Byron engineered, helped build and supervised untiringly. I went on a — you guess it — squirrel hunt at the little Blue House one weekend on the banks of the Tensas River. Byron was just a half dozen weeks past having a kidney removed. It was his first outing. He was supposed to be really taking it easy. No bouncing around or anything strenuous. Part of squirrel hunting at the Blue House was climbing down an old iron ladder which looked like it could have come from the salvage yard at the old Louisiana Mill where we both worked, Byron for a whole career and me for half of mine. We went down the ladder, into an aluminum boat, across the river and up a steep clay bank to some fine squirrel woods.
But when Byron got to the bottom wrung, it broke. He went down not one foot, but about three, landing hard on his feet. I looked at him. He looked at me.
“I wasn’t supposed to do that,” he said. But he assured us he was okay. More squirrels were killed. More lies told. And I’m sure somebody had a vienna sausage in their squirrel mulligan.
Coming home from work late at night, I often found the light on down the street. There were many late nights talking about his one-time dreams to be a major league baseball player or umpire and mine about maybe being a professional bass fishermen. They stayed dreams because we had families to take care of. And they were entwined with more serious discussions about life. He knew me well.
When I went to work at the mill, he was a Union Chairman and I was a “white hat”, the nice word the working people had for front office supervisors. It could be a fairly high pressure job in a tough work environment. Two weeks hadn’t passed when he came in my door and closed it. He told me “You didn’t ask for this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Don’t get too caught up in this job or the company. Don’t try to be somebody you are not. Don’t let it change you. Just be Kinny and you’ll be fine” he said. I always tried to do that.
When the love of my life, DiAnne, came to Bastrop for the first time, Byron and Zanona had us down for a neighborhood Fourth of July barbeque. I don’t remember much from that day other than a simple question Byron picked the opportune time for and asked, “I know she looks good, but can she see good.”
There was a time he took me way back in the Ouachita River swamp to a small button willow lined lake that had almost as many big bass in it as it did water moccasins. There was only one condition – I couldn’t write about it, at least not tell anybody exactly where we were. Well, I wrote about it and I must have done a pretty good describing it without a name because he later told me that everybody knew where we went.
“I knew you were going to do that,” he said, looking like he would have liked to hit me with one of those big pipe wrenches he used at work. One, by the way, that he could swing but I couldn’t even pick up. But since he knew I was going to do it, I didn’t feel so bad.
Byron was one of the good ones. A real person. He tried to act tough, and could be if necessary. But he would help anybody who was willing to try and help themselves and some who weren’t. I think I know why he was loved by so many people. He didn’t give out advice that he didn’t follow himself. He didn’t let life change him. He didn’t try to be somebody he was not. He was just Byron and that was just fine.