More Smokey Joe
By Joe Harrison
You may want to read the first of the Smokey Joe stories found here http://irishjoeharrison.blogspot.com/2013/04/smokey-joe.html before reading this one.
Smokey Joe was my Grandpa and he was the toughest, strongest man I ever met. Like many of my ancestors, he worked for the railroad…for 50 years!! Other than the three years he spent in the Pacific fighting the Japanese that was all he had ever done. He was actually quite upset when the railroad forced him to retire for medical reasons; he just loved driving those trains and wanted to keep on going.
It wasn’t long after he retired that he bought a 69 Mercury Montego from his brother-in-law and decided that he and I were going to rebuild the engine in it. Now Smokey didn’t care much for his wife’s brother, so when he paid him the 100 bucks they agreed on, he did it all in pennies that he had been saving in jars…that’s just the way he was.
We had built a strong table to put the motor on and rigged a come a long to pull it out. We put it on the ground and stripped it down and were ready to start taking the block apart so we needed to put it on the table. I started to hook up the chains to attach to the come a long so we could pick it up but Grandpa pushed me out of the way and said “Here now, your gonna take all day with that crap”. He then bent over, grabbed the motor, picked it up and dropped it on the table with his bare hands. This from a man the railroad had deemed too old and feeble to drive a train anymore.
But I digress from the story that I want to tell…I want to go much further back in time to when I was a kid, 8, 9, 10 years old. I would go down to South GA to spend time with him in the summers when I was out of school. Working for the railroad, he would usually be out of town for four or five days at the time, but when he got home, he would have 48 hours off. I can still remember long nights, sitting outside in his back yard listening for the train whistle, hoping it was his train coming in.
No matter what time of night it was, as soon as he got home, he would grab me, back his old truck up to his barn and we would start loading it up. I always knew exactly what we were taking…several fishing poles, frog gigs, a shotgun for each of us, a .22 cal rifle, Coleman stove and lantern and a cast iron skillet and cooking pot. He would then go inside and tell my Grandma that he was taking me fishing and we would head out. For some reason though, he always forgot to mention that we would be gone for two days at the time.
We would drive and drive, down dirt roads, across cow pastures, through deep woods and bogs, so deep into the South GA swamps that no one could ever find us. The first thing he would do when we got there would be to check what he called his alarm system. You see, he had rigged the area all around our “special place” with tin beer cans with rocks in them, hanging on fishing line strung from tree to tree; that way no one could sneak up on us. This was the place where we would make his homemade wine and he really didn’t want anyone else coming around.
Once the wine making process was started, there really wasn’t much else to do but wait, this was when the fun started for me, this was when we would set trot lines in the pond, sometimes we would gig frogs and yes, we would cook and eat the legs right there in the woods. Other times we would hunt squirrels or birds, and again, yes we would cook and eat them too. The nights were the best of all, we actually didn’t sleep the whole time we were gone, we would just fish all night. We always ate what we caught. Grandpa always kept the .22 close by in case a turtle popped his head out of the water long enough for him to get a shot off. Every now and then we were lucky enough to get one. Now folks you may think I’m crazy, but if you ever get a chance to eat a great big softshell turtle, or maybe a snapping turtle, jump on it because that is some really good eatin’.
Eventually we would drag ourselves home, filthy, smelly, exhausted…but totally happy. As soon as we pulled in the yard, Grandma would meet us at the truck, steadily fussing and yelling at old Smokey as he walked silently past her to his bedroom, closing the door behind him and going to sleep until they called him in for his next train trip. It was left to me to unload the truck and put everything away in the barn.
Today, as suburbanites make fun of our accents, our backwoods ways, they think of us as ignorant and uneducated, I think to myself…wow, if you people only knew what you missed out on, if you only knew what your kids were missing out on as you strive to buy their happiness from your cookie cutter subdivisions. You just can’t replace times like those and if you never experienced anything like it, you can’t imagine it…I dare you to even try.
Thank God for men like Smokey Joe Morris!!!