My grandfather was a wise old sage.
He was born in “Bloody Harlan” County, Kentucky, at a dark place called Cranks Creek, near the confluence of Martin’s Fork to be exact, not long after the turn of the last century.
His grandfather, George Washington “Wash” Smith, was forced to move the family across the Cumberland into Lee County, Virginia, following a bitter feud with the Cawood clan – a deadly quarrel that began as a festering dispute over local partisan politics related to the infamous Turner-Howard Feud.
The Smiths were Republicans – the Cawoods, Democrats. And they were all crazy.
It all started when a long removed uncle of mine, Noble Smith, shot and killed his 22-year old brother-in-law, Charlie Cawood, in a general store where whiskey was sold and drunk over a plank counter.
It seems Charlie Cawood, a man with a bad disposition who hated the GOP, was drinking heavily when he reached down, grabbed his young son, and stood him up on the bar. He made the boy dance like a rooster – flapping his arms and stomping about – then encouraged the child openly denounce the Republican Party.
Everyone laughed. Except my Uncle Noble.
Words were exchanged and Noble ordered Charlie to leave the bar and not return. Local historians say that, although Charlie left, he returned a few minutes later having armed himself.
That’s when my uncle picked up his 1873 Winchester and killed ol’ Charlie in the doorway.
Noble didn’t say a word – just raised his rifle and fired – then collected his orphaned nephew and went home.
Due, in part, to the politics of the day, Noble was acquitted of murder following a trial at London, Kentucky. The newspaper reported the following:
“When we went to press last week the case of Noble Smith for the murder of Charlie Cawood, in Harlan County, was on trial. Nine speeches were made in the case for the Commonwealth and five for the defense. Friday the Jury came in with a verdict of acquittal, and Smith was discharged from custody.”
Unfortunately, the outcome didn’t help and the bad blood thickened. Ultimately, Uncle Noble took his family and moved west to Washington State where they prospered in logging and timber.
The rest of the Smith kinfolk moved deep into Lee County where they established a farm and homestead in the White Shoals area of the Powell River Valley near present day Rose Hill.
The family farm was located on bottomland at the end of a very rough wagon trail, not a road really, constructed primarily of smooth grey flat river rocks. The rutted path wound through the woods past the entrance to a system of karsts and caverns which were used to hide troops and cattle during the Civil War.
By design, the land they settled was so inaccessible, so hidden away, that if it had not been for the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority, I’m not sure my people would have ever been found. I’m convinced that World Wars could have been fought, depressions and recessions could come and go, and my great grandparents would never have known until they brought their burley tobacco to market and overheard the news from other farmers.
I have a small, well-worn leather pouch that belonged to my great grandfather, Creed Smith.
Inside is a silver, quarter-sized dried fish scale – perhaps a good luck piece – a few coins, and a paper ledger. The old man and his mule would plow neighboring fields and he would record the cash transactions in the journal.
He always charged more for the mule than for himself.
Eventually, my grandparents packed up their young daughter and hauled her out of an old wooden cabin in the Virginia backwoods for jobs building the great hydroelectric dams at Norris and Fontana.
When my grandmother got tired of traveling with the TVA, they ultimately settled in Kingsport, Tennessee, where I was born and spent a great deal of time in the company of my grandfather.
Both of my maternal grandparents had a unique way with the language, and I learned a lot about life from their humorous homespun euphemisms. They were from a different time and place and it showed.
In fact, when my grandmother – who was one of the funniest women I have ever known – would write a letter, she used the old English “ye” rather than “you” in her correspondence. She never quite learned to pronounce the word “pizza” – and always answered the telephone with a drawn out, “Aw-right?”
When I would try and good-naturedly correct her, she would say, “Honey, hush.”
My “Granny” talked constantly, told funny stories with a flourish, and found humor in just about every situation. In the late afternoon, we would often sit in a long wooden swing on her front porch while she shelled peas or stringed beans, giggling and talking as her arthritic fingers worked her “mess of beans.”
I can honestly say, I haven’t laughed quite as hard at anything since she passed – a wonderful spirit.
On the other hand, my grandfather was a very quiet man, although with a great sense of humor, who taught me valuable lessons with his old-timey mannerisms, ways and sayings.
For instance, he would always give me his spare change which I carried around in a little hand-me-down squeeze purse he gave me. Whenever I would build up a nest egg, granddaddy would carry me downtown to a small newsstand on Broad Street where I would buy a “poke full” of candy – a box of popcorn that erupted all golden, hissing and popping, from an ancient, oily machine that filled the entire street with that wonderful salty/buttery aroma – and a short bottle of cold “Co-cola” for far less than a dollar.
The wonderful singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith once described the smell of a Woolworth store like, “popcorn and chewing gum rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe.”
That’s what Wallace News smelled like.
While I thumbed through the magazines and perused the candy rack, my granddad would sometimes play the machines at the back of the store. Later in life I realized that those “pinball” machines were probably more than just a time-and-dime waster.
On occasion, when I was really flush, I would pick out an additional comic book or two – maybe drop a nickel in the slot and take another ride on “Champion” the buckskin mechanical pony (with a real leather saddle) that went up-and-down and back-and-forth on the sidewalk just outside.
My grandfather would look down at me and warn, in that thick southwestern Virginia drawl, “Son, you’re going through your money like shit through a goose.”
Naturally, when I got back to the house I would burst through the back screen door and repeat my new found aphorism to my grandmother. In turn, she would act shocked and admonish that I, “Ought not talk ugly,” threatening that if I did she would have to “cut me a switch.”
She never did – and it was always obvious from his mischievous smile that my grandfather was secretly proud of the fact that he had added to my growing vocabulary in such a meaningful way.
I was thinking about my salty primary education the other day while reading the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s coverage of the Volusia County Council “making good” on their promise to give the International Speedway Corporation a down payment of $12 million in public funds on a total commitment of some $20 million for the One Daytona complex.
That’s $5 million cash – we’re going to borrow the rest.
The more I read, the angrier I got – and the good Lord knows my grandmother would not have been happy with the “ugly talk” that filled the room.
Our own county chair – and forth stooge – Jason Davis, was quoted as saying, “You go by today and tomorrow it’s changed.”
Yep. That’s the way those government-funded construction projects seem to go, Jason.
See, Auntie Lesa tells you how much of our money she needs, then those guys with the big Tonka trucks build things that benefit her family.
Now, put your cowboy hat on and let’s go get ice cream.
In other news, last month the County Council agreed unanimously to continue its $250,000 membership with Team Volusia, and signed off on budgets totaling some $13.4 million for the county’s three – count’em – tourism advertising agencies.
Did I mention the $1.5 million we handed to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University?
We’re told it’s to bailout struggling startups who find themselves short on cash at the university’s new “research park” – which is, apparently, another name for a place where folks gamble on their unproven ideas with your money.
Also, County Manager Jim Dinneen recommended approving the sale of public property valued at $800,000 to ERAU for the obscene half-price of $400,000.
Just gave it away to their friends at the Harvard of the Sky.
Oh, don’t let me forget, county officials are all set to vote on their proposed $849 million budget – that’s right, EIGHT-HUNDRED-FORTY-NINE-MILLION DOLLARS – which, naturally, includes a tax increase.
Not to mention the Volusia County School Board who just adopted an $852 million operating budget. Like board member Linda Cuthbert said, “That’s a lot of money!”
Thanks for your insight and elucidation, Linda.
(Does someone help these people with their communications – or do they just blurt out the painfully obvious like victims of delayed echolalia or a child learning to talk?)
Not to fear, County Manager Jim Dinneen has a “plan” – it’s called Little Jimmy’s “Go to Zero by 2018.”
I’m not sure if Dinneen means he wants zero debt by 2018 – or he plans to spend every last dollar until all accounts hit zero?
“It’s about cost control because we can get out of shape really quick and really fast,” Dinneen told the News-Journal’s editorial board. “It has to do with fiscal discipline.”
(Sorry. I just snorted coffee through my nose and threw-up in my mouth a little.)
Let’s talk more about “Go to Zero” later, shall we?
After reading of Mr. Dinneen and our elected officials weird idea of “fiscal discipline,” I was once again reminded of my grandfather’s prescient warning – we truly are going through money like shit through a goose – and I don’t think that poor, diarrheal bird’s bowels are going to tighten up anytime soon.