April 30, 1922 JW Smith was born. He would have been 92 today. He was born to poor parents and he stayed poor as a young man-working as a share cropper. Very often poverty becomes generational, so I think it the greatest of tender mercies that my dad not just was drafted into WWII but lived to tell the tale, and eventually made his future from what he had learned as a young hick kid in Egypt. He returned to Walnut Ridge, Arkansas at the end of the war, proceeded to father 3 children-I was the third, born in 1947. They brought me home to a 3 year old brother and a 13 1/2 month old brother-no wonder they so hoped it was the flu when Mom started puking.
My dad worked someone else’s land to try to raise a crop and make enough to provide for his family. There is a document from the bank showing collateral for a loan my dad needed for seed-one white faced heifer, one red pig, etc. No wonder the man acquired a twitch in his jaw when he got tense-probably started sometime during the time that crops didn’t quite produce the revenue needed and providing for his family meant he had to go hunting for a squirrel or rabbit for dinner-tasted a lot like chicken. He built a house from logs he and his father-in-law cut. We ate pork chops from the pig we fed everyday, then decided it was time to just eat him-gathered eggs laid from chickens we fed until we decided to make them our Sunday dinner. Holistic all the way-charming lifestyle-back to nature. Well, JW got out while he still could and turned the training from the Army Air Corp into a career that did not require getting behind a mule.
An uncle had gotten work at an Air Force (as it was now called) base in Missouri and recalled that JW knew how to work on airplanes. So, off we went, 60 miles north to a new life! The apartment he could afford was small, the shared bathroom was down the hall and a beer joint was across the street. But, I can’t help but think it might have saved JW from a life of poverty and a daily view of a mule’s rear end. He did what he always did-worked hard. Anything less would have felt like cheating to him. There were promotions, a move to Oklahoma, more recognition for his detailed approach to problem solving, crew chief, clean shirts, shoes shined like mirrors, good cars that didn’t break down and a wife that stood at has grave when he passed and said, “I have no regrets.”
JW lived to be 80 years old and left a legacy of honesty, hard work and integrity to his 5 children, his children’s children and his children’s children’s children. You get the idea. My dad was not a Father Knows Best kind of cuddle up to the leather patches on my cardigan sweater kind of guy. He represented security to me growing up. I knew he would always do his best to provide in the temporal sense of that word-and while my mom was no June Cleaver in pearls, she did her absolute best to provide security in the emotional sense of the word. I was blessed by being a part of their family. I’m really glad it wasn’t the flu!