When Jim Cox married Hanna and moved her and her young son, Jimmy Palmer to Smithwick, life would never be the same.
He was 9 years old, putting him a 1/2 year older than Kenny and 3 older than me.
They moved into Jim’s house that was across the highway from my Grandmother, Nonie. Since we spent most of the summers there with her and every weekend until we moved back from our years at Jollyville, we were together much of the time.
Jimmy was as big for his age as I was small for mine. Kenny, having a strong type “A” personality, pretty well was the leader of the group of 3. While we all had chores to do, we were given a lot of freedom to roam the territory around Smithwick. We were always horseback until we all got old enough to start driving. Those first few years of running wild, we spent many afternoons at Billy Lamb Falls in the swimming hole on Hickory Creek. Most of the time there were plenty of other kids, the Shafer and the Henry boys and others from the community that would join us.
We somehow always had money to stop off at Maude and Everett Jackson’s Store coming and going, to have sodie water and a candy bar.
As we got older we’d all hire out to haul hay or help work livestock, especially gathering goats at shearing time. By this age Kenny and I had become full time Smithwick residents. As soon as the older boys were old enough to get a drivers license they started driving dump trucks for Cecil Lewis. Since I was younger and unable to drive on the highways, I became the front loader operator loading those dump trucks that hauled road topping for new roads from Jonestown to Blue Lake Estates.
There came a time when I finally got my driver’s license. When we’d both head out of Marble heading home we’d generally have a contest of speed on our way to Smithwick. Most of the time, the leader would pull off just before reaching home with the other pulling in behind. We would sit for a little while to discuss what all had happened that night. Sometimes those visits were a few minutes, but they could go on for a lengthy period.
Jim being a couple of grades ahead of me, left Smithwick to work in Austin, mostly driving a ready mix truck while I finished up my schooling. He drove a cattle truck for my dad during that time also.
After I got out of school and into the construction world he came along with me for the ride. We worked in Burnet for a while, and then it was on to Austin. He was living back in Smithwick, so we drove back and forth together. Even though that all happened almost 50 years ago, I can recall our trips and our daily conversations just like they were last week.
Madeline and I married in the fall of 1971. By the summer of 1972 I had a lot of experience under my belt (not really) and I thought it was time for me to start my own construction outfit. So with Jimmy and Glenn Lewis as my first 2 employees, I started my first subcontract in Burnet. We spent several months there before heading on to Austin to take on a bigger world.
Glenn only lasted a few months in Austin. It was time for him to get back to ranch life, but Jimmy hung on for another couple of years. He had taken a second job, a bouncer and then manager at a bar in South Austin. A bar where I was told the waitresses weren’t fully clothed, but that’s a whole other story. Being there all night and holding down a job in construction wasn’t a very good mix, so the bar won out, in the later part of 1974.
We mostly lost touch. I was busy with family and the business. He began operating Municipal water systems, which he did for 20 years or longer.
When it came time for Jimmy to return to Smithwick, I made him a deal he couldn’t refuse or at least he didn’t. He came to work with us another 10 or 12 years, until the grind and pace of running back and forth from Smithwick to Austin no longer worked out.
The stories of our travels are numerous. Having been friends for 61 years, it was only about a month ago, on a Monday morning, that I got a call from Jimmy, asking if I could stop by. He called Kenny also. We all three gathered on his front porch a short time later. He told us what he was facing, but really didn’t want it to be made public, as he didn’t feel up to a lot of company by that time in his journey.
Kenny and I returned every few days to continue our visits. We told stories, and laughed a lot. We talked about the lives we have lived and how we wouldn’t take for those memories.
Cheryie asked if I would be able to make him a good sturdy coffin to be buried in. I came home and went to work on a nice red cedar box of sufficient size to contain his large framed body. My sawmill friend Chris came and help me slab out the cedar logs. Their wish was to do a simple Home to Cemetery burial.
I had told my ever helpful employee Kris yesterday that I felt we needed to dig the grave this morning. Something made me feel like the time was near. Last night around 9:00 I got the call from Cheryie that Jimmy’s soul had left his body.
With the coffin loaded early today I headed over the pass to Smithwick. The grave digging got under way with several of us present and Jimmy was laid to rest before noon with his family, members of the community and several friends present.
I’ll have to say that one of my greatest honors was to be asked to build that coffin. As I told some different ones “if those boards aren’t all nice and straight, it was pretty hard to cut a good line with tears in my eyes“.