Junior York’s Customers Got Full Service

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How many times did he pull us out of ditches, give a spark to our dead batteries and get us on our way?

The shocking news of Junior York’s death zoomed about Mocksville on Saturday morning as fast as we could click the message on our phones. I paused and stared when I read the text.

I couldn’t count the number of times he towed me and the newspaper vans. He was our lifeline. I memorized his phone number 30 years ago.

When my sons reached 16, I took them all by York’s Exxon and gave them this message: When you’re in a jam, call Junior. When the car sounds funny, let him listen.

The familiar gas station on Salisbury Street has always been a magnet. For years, deer hunters checked in their kills there and Junior would admire the racks. He was quite a hunter himself. Lost travelers stop here for directions. A cold Coke on a hot day tastes a little better at York’s Exxon.

The station is always abuzz. Oil changes. Lube jobs. Tire pressure tests. Inspections. Rotations. Batteries. Tires. Fan belts. And, of course, gasoline. Junior gave full service … even at the self-service pumps.

“Check that oil?”

He cleaned windshields with an artist’s skill — never in a hurry, even when he had a backlog of oil changes to do before closing time.

I got a hint of Junior’s popularity a decade ago when he re-married and took his bride to Paris on their honeymoon. Paris, France. He hadn’t been on a significant trip since he returned from Vietnam. We ran the story on the front page. The newspaper sold out wall-to-wall that week.

Junior was drafted at the height of the Vietnam War and was assigned to a helicopter gunship, ferrying soldiers to and from the battlefields. It was a high-risk assignment. He didn’t expect to return home alive. He broke up with his girlfriend, severed ties and went off to war, not wanting to cause hardships at home if he were killed.

To his surprise, he survived. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Medal for heroism in battle, but he made it back alive.

He returned to Mocksville and took over his dad’s gas station. And his son, Aaron, grew up among the grease and tires and oil, learning the business for the next generation.

Like his father, Junior raced cars a little, but mostly he kept ours running.

I was always amazed at his mechanical skills. Some of us have trouble just raising the hood. Junior knew a carburetor from a camshaft, a fuel pump from an alternator … and what they did. There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t fix.

The white-flowered wreath on the gas station door Monday gave proof that the news was true.

Cathy and Grady McClamrock Jr. left this touching message on the funeral home’s tribute page: “Junior was one of the most patient, kind and generous people we are blessed to have in Mocksville. He would always listen and try to help with no concern about the color of the skin or the thickness of the wallet. I have seen him working in the heat, cold, dark and even Sundays to get some stranded soul on down the road of life. Junior, we often told you ‘thank you very much’ but we forgot to also tell you we loved you. Mocksville has lost a true patriot and friend.”

He will be missed.

Our deepest sympathies to Aaron and the family.

— Dwight Sparks