Maya Angelou said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I get that now.
You see, Sal was wealthy. Not in a banker kind of way, but in a president kind of way. He had obtained the kind of wealth that only lives in my dreams. Sal traveled to pyramids and exotic lands with Helen, his wife of 48 years; he built houses for every season, collected antique tractors, fishing reels, old fans. He flew planes, drove boats, set crab traps, and enjoyed white wine with lots of ice cubes. And, he shared all of this with his family, his friends, his wife and his little pup, Quinn. His collections were always growing, not for the sake of wealth and accumulation, but for the sake of preserving the reel's story or the tractor's might. Preserving and protecting, and he knew he had the means to do it. So, he did. And when an email would pop into our inbox from time to time from Sal, the one line, ALL CAPS message told of his newest discovery, and he would include a quick picture. It always made us smile.
And that day, on Little Palm Island, I smiled. He made me feel really good about me. Knowing that I was way out of my league on that island and even out of my league in the presence of a man who had traveled the world and had made more money that I would make in a thousand lifetimes, I belonged. In my shorts, smelling of crab pots. I was rich. He didn't see my bank account or my list of accomplishments. We were family. We were rich.
I remember vaguely the stories Sal shared. The names he dropped - Jackie Kennedy, Andrew Wyeth, Jimmy Buffett - that didn't faze him. I remember how he and Helen welcomed Len and I into their home year after year, taking us to No Name Pub and playing trivia at Boondocks and, to my amazement, winning the first round of our first game. Sal knew that Marilyn Monroe was on the first cover of Playboy; we asked how he knew, but he just shrugged his shoulders and grinned. When we got back to his place, he couldn't wait to show Len the red collared shirt he bought in Key West for a bargain $.79. What a deal!
Sal and Helen told us how lucky Len and I were to have found each other late in the game. They knew how important it was to find your soul mate, for with Sal and Helen, you could not say one name without the other. Where one went, the other followed. They were the ultimate soul mates. And if I ever needed anything, "you call me," he said. And I knew he meant it. There's not many people that will give you their heart without proof of life. Most people like Sal don't have time for people like me.
For the last four years, as I finally realized my own family had disappeared, I found a new source of wisdom and comfort in Sal and Helen. Accepting me into a larger-than-life Sicilian family that many times made me wince from their oddities. I loved it. I love them, and that's why today, there's a void in my heart.
I've never driven a Bentley, given Ted Kennedy permission to tie up at my dock, helped Jackie Kennedy with her horse, exported cars or tanks across the sea, looked at Hemingway's fishing reel resting on my shelf, encouraged Jimmy Buffet to take a shot at this singing thing, but I have felt the same kind of compassion they felt when they walked with Sal Lentine. I was lucky enough to have him in my life, if only for a few short years. I am no longer poor.
Len and I like to think his heavenly chariot looks something like this: a golf cart with a hood of an antique Cadillac a half block long, with wings, sporting huge tractor tires, powered by an old Evenrude outboard motor, with a license plate that reads "Lentine" with Sal at the wheel, a fishing rod in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other.
That makes me feel really good.
2/9/2015 07:06:24 am
I'm Sal's brother-in-law, (Helen's brother). I loved what you wrote about him, and you struck a chord with me! He also made me feel like I belonged anywhere; your story about having drinks at the exclusive resort in old clothes is vintage Sal. He took us on his boat around Manhattan, and tied up at an exclusive dock on the East River (with the help of a generous tip to the dockmaster) so that we could have a picnic lunch with the greatest view in the world (for that day...the next day, he would be championing a different "greatest view"). He made me, too, feel that (with him) I could go anywhere. I don't feel quite so sure today. But I remember. I think I can do it on my own.
2/10/2015 12:28:05 am
I'm so glad to see that I got it right. He made every day, every moment that you were with him unforgettable. I agree, in that I'm not sure who can follow in his footsteps. Who will be the Sal in our lives? I know I don't have the history with him that you do, but for a short time, I got to know just how special he was. Thanks Frank. God bless you.
2/9/2015 01:27:33 pm
i too enjoyed your stories. Thanks for sharing.
2/10/2015 12:29:35 am
It is my pleasure, Lou. When you're touched by special people, it's our obligation to spread a little of that love and compassion. God bless.
Donna Sutton Van Riper friends of Sheila Griffin( Helen's sister)
2/9/2015 11:52:59 pm
Sal &Helen just had a way. I remember in 2001 going to RamRod Key to see them with John & Sheila. We all went out on the boat and did some crabbing. Sal drove us every where, couldn't have shown us more. Back at their place Helen cooked the crabs. Later that evening we all go to dinner. It was a great day. R.I.P. Sal
2/10/2015 12:31:48 am
Sounds like Sal and Helen loved having people in their home as much as we loved being there. May we all pass along that gift to our family and friends. He left us with a legacy; now, we have to see it through. I'm honored that you found this and read it. God bless.
2/11/2015 12:38:14 am
Such a beautiful story about Sal. You captured his spirit. He was an amazing man who we feel blessed to have been his friend. We shared so many special moments with him and Helen. On one day last summer when my three grandchildren were staying with us in Maine, he treated them to an amazing adventure with tractors, and golf carts that they will never forget. He shared his passage and love with you. We will miss him so much but feel blessed to have known him.
2/11/2015 08:28:34 am
Thank you so much for reading Barbara. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but did Len and I meet you and your husband at Sal's about three years ago? We're the crazy couple from Georgia that shared a wonderful meal on the screened porch! Sal and Helen will always be special to us. You don't encounter but one Sal in a lifetime! God bless.
Linda Lentini Hindak
2/11/2015 08:03:47 am
I loved reading the stories of Sal and Helen - some I have heard and some was a pleasure to read. Sal was always stopping at my brothers shop sharing pictures and yes CRABS with my dad ( Art Lentini Sr.) he enjoyed telling some stories and my dad loved hearing about the many things that he and Helen had done. He was a special man who shared with so many. Rip Sal you will be missed by many.
2/11/2015 08:30:25 am
Thank you for reading Linda. Sal was truly a special man, but it was his every man characteristics that proved just how special he was. He did like his crabs! God bless!
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Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.