Born on July 13, 1952 and passed away on July 26, 2008.
This isn’t a saddle story…, but I call this old George Lawrence saddle, “Jackson”. I don’t name all my saddles. Usually it’s just, “Julie’s saddle”, or “Jamie’s saddle”, or “My saddle”, or the “new George Lawrence”, if you’re speaking about them. But this is a very special saddle…, and so was the fella that I named it after. Oh man…, yeah. Was he ever. Songwriter, singer, guitar picker…, leader of the band. And a hell of a musician. Fighter, scrapper, logger, timber cutter. And a hell of a man. Classmate, teammate, employee, barroom buddy. And a hell of a character. Husband, hunter, father, grandfather. And gone before his time. Still in his prime…, at least musically speaking.
So, when it was widely known that Jack S. Smith had a deadly form of cancer and was only a few months away from performing the ultimate gig on stage in another realm, a Benefit Auction was planned for him in this one. Another good friend of mine, Jim Jensen, offered up the old George Lawrence saddle as a donation for the auction. And the damn fool even tried to bid against me on it! There was no way that old saddle that I had already named “Jackson” was going to be anyone’s but mine. Jim can be forgiven for being such a fool; he wasn’t born in Idaho like Jack, and he wasn’t raised in Idaho like Jack and I. Jim came out from Wisconsin years after Jack and I had become friends back in high school, and he didn’t know just how close our relationship had been. Oh man…, yeah. For four glorious months in our senior year at Timberline High…, I had my hands under Jack’s butt almost every day. Stuff like that can warp your mind…, and leave a lasting impression I guess.
You see…, Jack was the starting center on our football team, and I played quarterback. Jack was also our starting free safety on defense, where he hit like another Jack…, Jack Tatum. He wasn’t all that big…, even for a safety…, let alone a center. Maybe 5’ 7” and all of 145 lbs. He got a hold of the roster before the manager printed out the lineup card and changed his weight to 165 to make it look good. At center Jack was always outweighed by a good 30 or 40 pounds, or more when he looked across at the nose guard lined up in front of him. He was never intimidated, I believe he relished it. Our coach gave out “hash marks” on our helmets when we made a hit that caused an opposing player’s head to “snap back”. When you got ten hash marks on your helmet, the helmet was painted black. Jack wore a black helmet early in the season. Not many others did, even at the end of the season. We finished tied for the League Championship that year. Jack played a big part in making my glory days a winning memory.
I knew who Jack Smith was a few years before we went to school together at Timberline High School. He lived in the logging town of Pierce, ID (pop 1029) which was just 11 miles up the road from my hometown of Weippe (pop 705), which had more farmers than loggers. The two towns were bitter cultural and sports rivals. There was always a little tension in the air, because back in those days it wasn’t hardly a Saturday night if there weren’t a couple of fights at a bar or at a local dance. It was virtually guaranteed if there were more than a couple of Piercites in Weippe, or Weippers in Pierce. Weippe had a venue called the Community Hall. A classic old log structure with a hardwood floor, a wood stove, and a stage…, where Jack and a couple of other guys from Pierce would often play music on weekends. And he had the reputation of a willing and able scrapper to boot. A well deserved, and honestly earned one I might add. So in the summer of 1969, I was walking down the street of Lewiston, ID (pop 17,900), heading to a dentist appointment, so the dentist could make sure the wires holding my jaw together hadn’t slipped any. I spied Jack Smith leaning up against a building. No one was sure how the consolidation of the Weippe and Pierce High Schools into Timberline High was going to work out that fall, given the ancient rivalry between the two towns. But I knew that Jack and I were going to be playing football together that season. I thought it proper to introduce myself, and after all, he might know who I was too. I’d been out on the dance floor and on the basketball court a few times. I knew…, from experience…, that it isn’t easy to introduce yourself through wire-clenched together teeth, and it’s pretty hard to slip into the conversation the story of why you are gritting your teeth and talking like that. But if your listener is looking at you like you’re the kind of guy who might want to get his hands under your butt…, and your listener isn’t helping you out with small talk of his own, it can get a little uncomfortable rather quickly. It can make you almost glad you have a dentist appointment. Oh man…, yeah. It gives you a chance to excuse yourself and move on. Jack reminded me of that moment many times over the years and told me that I caught him at a particularly bad time.
He later told me that he had just seen Linda off on a bus to school somewhere and he was pretty dejected. After I met Linda, I could understand why. Oh man.., yeah. Jack and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Linda were married probably a year after I introduced myself to Jack. They were together for nearly 40 years, and she was at his side at the end. Just like she was all the years they were together. Through all the ups and downs, highs and lows, hilarious and horrifying…, and sometimes…, plumb sideways crazy, borderline insane times. And that just describes the times that I can personally attest to. They had “gone steady”, as we called it back then, all through high school. After they got married, I know they were split up for a brief time early on, because Jack told me about coming home to an empty house one night. Well…, empty except for the man and wife figurine that had adorned their wedding cake…, it was sitting on the kitchen counter under the bare cupboards. He didn’t elaborate on what mistakes he had made to cause that, but he evidently never made them again. If they were ever split up after that, he never told me about it.
Me and Linda at an April Birthday Party
“I'll Always Love You”
I know you’re young, and I’m young tooI’ll do what I can, that’s all I can doBut I swear I'll always love youI’ve made some mistakes, maybe quite a fewBut one I didn’t make, was when I found youAnd I swear, I’ll always love you....
Continued in the comments section