Notes & Quotes: The Smiths of the Okefenokee Swamp


Sunset. (Photo by Matt Phillips via Unsplash)

Tom Morrow

This week, columnist Tom Morrow continues his series about “Following the Sun” to the West.

We left Glynco Naval Air Station at Brunswick, Georgia, with enthusiasm — my wife was returning home to have our son, and I was looking forward to going to the western Pacific and the island of Guam. I would be on my first real life adventure of “Following the Sun” that would take me to far-off lands.

Our first step onto this new sojourn landed us in Waycross, Georgia, some 80 miles west of Brunswick. We had stopped for gas about 9 o’clock at night, but when we went to pull out of the station pulling a heavy U-Haul trailer, the transmission went out of our 1953 Ford. We were really scared because we had barely enough money and time to get back to Iowa, and me to San Francisco for my departure for Guam.

I only had about 10 days of travel time, so I was at a loss of what to do next. The gas station attendant said he could help. He made a telephone call and, while we were waiting, for who, we had no idea, the attendant said we could unhook the trailer and park it on the side of the station.

Notes & Quotes by Tom MorrowWithin about 20 minutes, an old tow truck drove up. The vehicle had seen better days. The driver was a young man in his late 20s, and from the rider’s side emerged an elderly man probably in his late 60s.

While the driver hooked up our car to be towed, the old man listened to our story of woe, which primarily consisted of not having enough money for a motel, let alone transmission repair. He told us to pile into the truck cab. My wife sat on my lap, and the four us, with our Ford in tow, headed in the dark of night into the Okefenokee Swamp. We had no idea of where we were or where we were going.

Soon we started driving up a narrow driveway, stopping at an old farmhouse.

“We’re home,” the old man proclaimed. “Come on, the woman will give you something to eat.”

When inside, a woman about the same age as the old man identified herself and her husband as “Reuben and Rachel Smith.” Reuben smoked a pipe while sitting and visiting. This made my wife feel right at home because her elderly father also smoked a pipe.

Oceanside News logoWe were dead tired, primarily because of the stress the breakdown was causing us. Rachel beckoned us into a bedroom where she said we were to spend the night. The bed had one of those homemade feather-bed mattresses. Maybe it was because we were so tired, but I don’t remember having that good of a night’s sleep as that.

About 7 the next morning, we awoke to the aroma of bacon and ham cooking. We quickly got dressed and went out into the dining room. Rachel had prepared a southern breakfast for us — it was more like a feast. I inquired about the car.

“Oh, the boy’s got the old transmission dropped and we found a 1953 Mercury transmission over at the junk yard that will do ya just fine,” Reuben said in between puffs from his pipe. It was then we learned that the “boy” was their son.

My wife and I looked at each other with a big sigh of relief. But, how much will all this cost was the next thing that popped into my head.

Like that restful night’s sleep, the breakfast was one of the best we ever ate. Bacon, ham, cured on the Smiths’ farm, grits, eggs to order, homemade bread and homemade jams. No restaurant could serve a better meal.

After breakfast, Reuben had his son drive us to the junk yard. He said he preferred that I make my own deal with the junk yard owner so I wouldn’t think he was taking advantage of the situation. When Reuben told him the story, the man said the price tag was $40. I didn’t argue. I whipped out two $20 travelers’ checks and paid him. He let me know that he usually dealt in cash, but seeing how Reuben was “votching” for me, he’d accept some of that Yankee paper money.

By 10 a.m., the Mercury transmission was installed and the car was ready to drive out back to Waycross. Now a time of reckoning. What would all of this cost — the tow, the transmission installation, labor? And that great breakfast and restful night’s sleep?

“Well, son, do you think you can spare $25?”

My wife and I looked at each other, not believing our ears.

“Are you sure, sir?” I asked.

“Well, mother and I were young once and we know what it is to have a tough time, so $25 will be just fine.”

“What about your son?”

“I’ll take care of him. He understands your situation.”

Many thanks were made to all three of the Smiths. We vowed to keep in touch. I think I might have sent them a card or letter, but we never did hear from them.

We’ve often thought of Reuben and Rachel. There were a lot of events and places we saw together during our 13 years of marriage, but near the top of the list has to be our wonder 12 hours we spent with Reuben and Rachel Smith of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Tom Morrow is a longtime Oceanside-based journalist and author who contributes to OsideNews.

Columns represent the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the North Coast Current’s ownership or management.

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