Old Man Cardwell

When we were young, I would have been a preteen, we went all over Smithwick horseback. Mostly it was Kenny, Jimmy Palmer, Glenn Lewis and me, but sometimes other boys in the community joined in. I guess it had more to do with whether a youngster had access to a horse.

Everett and Maude Jackson had the little store beside the road just below the cemetery, back towards the church house. The store had really limited fare. Mostly snacks and soda pops. Maybe some soda crackers and Vienna Sausages or potted meat. I don’t remember there being many perishables. Seems like there may have been a refrigerator that had eggs and such.

Across the highway from the store and down the creek a little ways was a little shack that Old Man Cardwell lived in. It was a very primitive place. More of a tar paper shack or a converted goat shed. It didn’t have electricity or running water. It was heated with a wood stove and he had an old fire pit of sorts outside where he would do some cooking. No bigger than he was, being old and swiveled up, it didn’t take much food for him. Nothing ever appeared appetizing enough that any of us wanted to eat with him.

Times were really different back then, the early 60s, but when we went to visit Mr. Cardwell, it was like we were transported back another 100 years. It was never clear to me why he lived out there. The property belonged to Everett and Maude Jackson. It wasn’t like he could live there and fish or anything? Even though his little shack was on the bank of the creek, there weren’t fish in the mostly wet weather creek. I think he mostly enjoyed the lifestyle. I guess it was almost like being a homeless person today.

It was just a real adventure just going over and hearing his stories. I really don’t remember them, but he was able to entertain us.

What always struck me was he had a place up in Marble Falls. Not a fancy house but a place on Backbone Creek. I think it was a couple of acres at Avenue R between 2nd and 4th. There was really fertile ground there. I remember he grew some tobacco, the only time as a kid I ever saw it being grown. I guess it was for his own use, though I can’t tell you for sure if he even smoked. He probably chewed it. His mouth and chin appeared to have those stains. But I can’t tell you for sure, because old men like that didn’t always have the best hygiene regiments.

We often visited him over the years up in town at that place, when we stayed over with Glenn. It was only a couple of blocks from where Glenn lived with his folks.

There was a time that the old man had the most beautiful garden. No one else in town did that year. There was a severe drought going on. I was told the city kept eyeing how green everything was. The corn was tall, there were huge water melons and the best looking tomatoes you ever saw.

The city finally investigated and found out that Glenn and an accomplice had found a city water line and dug it up and tapped Mr. Cardwell an irrigation line into to it and buried it. Then they helped him build up furrows and plant a very large plot. It was quite the setup, with a nice deer proof fence and all.

The city found it and cut off the valve and then set back and watched to see who came to help with the garden, knowing that old fellow wasn’t capable of doing it alone.

They caught Glenn red handed. They threatened to put him in jail, but as far as I know nothing ever happened, other than they disconnected the tap.

He lived to 93 years old – passed on in 1984.

Back in the 1960s, he was in his 70s. We thought of him as being so old. Nothing like me approaching 70 later this year myself, to make that not seem so old.

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