L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 342, October 23, 2005
Tenth Anniversary Edition, Part 4
A Tribute to My Grandfather
Exclusive to TLE
At various times, I've written articles for TLE, crediting various people with being very influential in my life. These have included my father, L. Neil Smith, and Robert A. Heinlein. In the context of the articles I wrote, there was one very important person I've left out, and that was my grandfather, Mr. Joseph Cormier, or G'pop Joe, as we called him.
Looking back, it seems odd that a person could be so important in your life, when you see so little of him. Growing up in a Navy family, we moved a lot, and were stationed all over the world, often only getting back to visit G'pop Joe every two years or even less. But he taught me some very important lessons, lessons that have really shaped a lot of my life. It seems even more odd that I know so little about him.
G'pop Joe was a big man, or seemed so to me, as a child. Mom often told me that I get my height from him, since almost every other male in the family was 5'10" or less. He was an accomplished accordionist, playing the French accordion like a wizard, even in his old age, with arthritis crippling his hands. Mostly, by the time I knew him, he was limited to the slower Cajun classics, and those big hands could make that French accordion wail!
G'pop Joe was one of those old time Cajuns, men who could do anything, and do it well. To look at a paper trail of his life, it wouldn't really be impressive. He retired as a school bus driver, and lived on a little one acre plot of land in Orangefield, TX. On that little one acre plot, at various times, he raised chickens, guinea hens, sheep, goats, pigs, raised and trained fighting cocks and trained horses. His house wasn't impressive, just a small place.
When I was very small, G'pop Joe made me help him take care of the chickens and other animals when we came to visit, and instilled in me a love and understanding of animals that lasts to this day. Not the sappy, unrealistic, anthropomorphic type of the eco-freaks, but the practical, hard-headed appreciation of a man who lives with, loves, and uses the animals on an everyday basis.
On one particular visit, he taught me a very important lesson, one that has lasted to this day. It was forty years ago, just before we went to the Philippines, and we were staying with him, while waiting for Dad to call for us to join him. I was eight years old. One day, G'mom Joe asked me what I wanted for dinner that night. Not long before, we had had rabbit for dinner, and I had liked it, so I answered that I'd like to have that again. G'pop Joe took me out to the rabbit hutches where he raised rabbits for sale and food. He asked me to point out a rabbit. When I did, he picked that rabbit up by the hind legs, killed it (not going into details here,) and threw it into a wash tub. He told me to pick out another one, and when I did, he pulled that one out, handed it to me, and told me to kill it as well. I did, badly, and after it was done, he squatted down in front of me, to get to my height, and looked me straight in the eye, his big hands on my shoulders, and said in that soft voice and Cajun stutter/accent, "Cha, remember this. Something has to die for us to eat. Don' matter if it be meat, or shrimp, or crabs, even food from the store, something has to die. That's just the way it is. You understand?"
I didn't really, not then, and I think he knew it, but he hugged me close, and that made it all right. We each killed two more rabbits, him showing me how to do it quickly and humanely, then he taught me how to skin and clean them. On that same visit, he did the same thing with chickens, and a pig. There was also a cow, but he sent that one out to be processed, since he had a deal with a local butcher. He taught me about waste, too. The day after we had chicken for dinner, we took the bones that were left, with the shreds of meat on them out to the bayou, tied strings around them, and lowered them into the water. After a few minutes the strings would start twitching, and we'd pull them up. The bones and shreds of meat would be covered with crabs, which he showed us how to pull off and threw them in a bucket. In just a couple of hours, we had enough crabs for a wonderful crab cake/pie. (AUTHENTIC Cajun food is hard to describe, for those who've only had the tourist crap!)
G'pop Joe was a hell of a man. Hard, fair, loving, and one hell of a teacher. He died of cancer, over 25 years ago. I miss him.