by Ron Cook
It takes all kinds of people to make a well-loved, interesting, challenging life. Some people are always serious in all of their affairs. Some people are always full of humor and lighthearted. Some are hardworking, everyday folks. A very few are true unmistakably unique characters. That was George Smith. If you know someone like George, you have been blessed.
George was from a large farming family just on the outskirts of our small town in Portland, Michigan. He grew up plowing, planting and harvesting some small crops. Rhubarb was his favorite. All of his friends got some in season. My favorite pie, yet today, is strawberry-rhubarb. Yum!!!
George came to my family’s life in his early twenties. He had a girlfriend once that didn’t work out. He remained single the rest of his life. George was a hardworking, storytelling, bigger-than-life kind of friend. He had stories about all of us brats (his word for children) that he liked to tell over and again … yet each telling was lively and hilarious. When George wasn’t working for my father and uncle’s business, or later, driving a county road grading truck, he would be driving his pickup truck around visiting all his friends and neighbors. He might have known everyone in that small town!
Every adult and former child in Portland probably has a favorite story about George that I hope they tell forever. Once when I was about 8 years old, he caught my neighbor and me shooting at him with a pea shooter. He chased us down and cut that peashooter in two. Marty said, “I still have half a peashooter!” George took both pieces and hammered them flat saying, “Now you brats don’t have any peashooter.”
I tried my first Beechnut chew with George. Talk about gagging! He worked circles around us kids putting in drain fields and tile. He took us fish-dipping, to fighting matches in the prison in the next town, and to help plant gardens. When he came to visit after work, he always had tootsie rolls or M&M’s for us “brats” and a beer for the adults. He would work, after work, getting tools and machinery ready for the next day.
George would show up for everyone’s birthday, graduation, wedding or anniversary with his camera. He must have taken thousands of pictures of friends and relatives over his 82 years. He dressed up for formal affairs (clean work clothes) but, otherwise, would wear his regular work clothes for his visits in the community.
George lived a hardworking, tobacco chewing, beer drinking life, yet he outlived my father and uncle by over 20 years. George might have been a combination of Robert DeNiro, Gomer Pyle and Barney Fife. He could be a rough kind of tough guy, but had a large loving heart. He was, at the same time, full of humor, yet so serious as well. He would come to tears in his later years telling his stories of friends who had passed on.
George Smith passed away in May. He will be missed, yet the fullness of his lived-life has left all who knew him with many cherished memories and lived stories. George died on Our Lady of Fatima’s feast day. I am sure he is one prodigal son who is now back in the arms of his loving Holy Mother. The picture is from his 80th birthday party. All the men are from the second generation of my dad and uncle’s Cook Brothers Excavation Company. Each man loved him, and cherished his presence. Yes, the baseball cap says Dr. Busch … a completely typical picture of this common man who lived a most uncommon life. A true hero …
Per aspera ad astra … (Through hardships to the stars)