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The Day Snuffy Smith Taught Me The Secret Of Life

Updated on October 5, 2011

"I'm glad that I finished my laps in the pool, for now, I can introduce you to a true American legend . . .

who has been seen and read in numerous daily newspapers across the world and is one of the most-popular characters ever to grace rural America. I love this guy. I am sure that most Americans love this guy and his dry, rural wisdom that has served him well over 75 years and it's that same dry rural wisdom that keeps this gentleman so young at heart.

So without any further ado, I am proud, honored, humbled and grateful, to present to you . . .the one. The only . . .

Last Wednesday night, I had the most amazing dream . . .

so vivid in its color and tapestries. I thought for a moment that I had left Mother Earth and entered Heaven to be with God and the angels, but soon I realized that I was in a place that is almost as beautiful as Heaven, the goregous Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. I couldn't make a step for my eyes were fixed on the beautiful green grass, clear running water in the nearby brooks, and the trees, so majectic and royal, standing guard over an obviously-sacred part of the earth.

Then I heard an old man's gruff, sandy-edged voice, "Sonny, you coming, or standing thar?" You will never guess who the old man was. Snuffy Smith, floppy, weather-beaten black hat and all. Standing eye-to-eye with me twitching with impatience. "Well?" he asked. "Are ye' goin' wiff me or whut?" Smith said hoping that the next word out of my mouth would be "yes," and it was, "yes," so with me in tow, Snuffy Smith, the American cartoon legend and icon, started down a long, winding mountain trail that frankly, made my legs and feet hurt for all the walking over the huge boulders that lay in the trail as well as the Oak tree trunks that acted like bridges for the squirrels who ventured from one side of the trail to the other. I just had to sit down. "Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!" I yelled. "Name's Snuffy and whattaye want?" he asked not batting an eye.

"I just, puff, puff, needed to get my breath, sir. That's all," I managed to say. "Hogs-a flyin'! Seed it all now," Snuffy said almost bursting into a horse laugh. "This here trail is all downhill, sonny. No reason for ye' to be winded," he added, as I got to my feet and continued to follow him further down the trail.

Along the way, my eyes caught the sight of several older mountain people, I guess that was the correct term, who were just sitting on the porches of their quaint little mountain cabins built from logs and had wooden shingle roofs. These mountaineers were placid, at peace, watching the world go by. The mountain ladies were softly humming some really old Gospel spirituals like, "Love Lifted Me," and "I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger," their melodious tones blended like fine silk threads into the total peace that made up this almost-dream-like atmosphere. The elderly men dozed and lazily smoked their corncob pipes letting the smoke trial off into the fresh air. A few bluebirds gave concert as Snuffy and I continued our journey to only Snuffy knew where.

"Young feller! I brought ye' hyar to show ye' somethin' A thang that us mountain folks have had for years . . .it's a thang we call thu' 'Secret o' Life,' and I thank, by lookin' at ye', sonny, you can stand a dose of what I got to give ye' . . .

and I guess at this time, if I had a mirror to look at myself, I would have seen the face of a very confused man. A man who didn't know where he was. What to do. Or how to do whatever it was that I needed to do. No wonder that Snuffy laughed at me so hard that he rolled on the ground yelling like a stuck hog. "The secret of life? Now, Mr. Smith, I ain't, I mean, I am not a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I just happen to know that writers, poets, philosophers for centuries have been searching for the secret of life and never found it. Why is it that you have it?" I asked. "Cos'," Snuffy said. Then spit some tobacco juice on the sandy ground. "We mountain folks kept it to ourselves. Never told a soul. Until you come along and we gest figured that it wuz time to 'let the horse out of the barn,' and tell somebody," he explained.

I was excited. Anyone with any learning could tell that. I was almost jumping up and down, and would have jumped up and down except I noticed one of the old timer's on the porch we had just passed was now holding his double-barrel shotgun in his arms and that meant one thing: be quiet and don't act a fool or get shot. I had read in the city in the Office of State Resources, how strange and uncultured the humble-but-stern mountain people can be--steeped in their mysterious hill superstitions.

"Mr . ., I mean, Snuffy, is this, uh, secret of life, as you call it, a mixture, a potion that you bottle up here in the mountains? I would like to see a sample right away," I said to an anxious Snuff Smith who had heard my inquiry and was in the process of taking me to where I could 'sample' his so-called secret of life.

"Sonny, ye' are 'bout to be thrilled down to ye' socks! Gets ready now to be dazzled and bamboozled by what I am 'bout to tell ye' Here's ye' a fishin' pole. Let's sit down hyar and do us some fishin' . . . ."

Snuffy said with the candor of a young kid on Christmas morning. His eyes were sparkling like new champagne. His face was all aglow with sudden-excitement. Snuffy was so excited that his nose was a candy apple red. No, I soon found out that his nose was red due to his love for homemade liquor, 'corn squeezings' as he put it. I was nonetheless curious about what fishing had to do with the secret of life. My mind was ready to absorb every intimate detail of this event and memorize every word out of Snuffy Smith's mouth, so I could document it back at my job and maybe share or sell it to the world. The way I viewed this secret of life thing, that Snuffy was showing me, was maybe this was the answer to the stress and pressure in our world. I was tempted as any mortal man would be to market this and retire as the wealthiest man in the world, but I didn't confess this to Snuffy. I was afraid that he would 'clam up' and not tell me anything else about the secret of life.

"Young feller, I can tell you about fishin,' it's like life . . .

because it keeps moving forward just like this here creek. You don't see it running against itself, but going easy with the water's flow," Smith said as he sat down and casually fitted his fishing pole with the proper weight, sinker and bait.

"Fishing?" I thought. "I must be hanging with a man who's bread is not buttered on both sides--telling me that life is like fishing," I mumbled as I drew closer to Smith to hear more of his mountain wisdom.

"Young feller, if you use the same things in life that you use in fishin', thar ain't no way that a young man like yeself can't make a wagon load of money and have a nice shack with a womern to love ye' at night. Here are the thangs I use to fish and these same thangs help us up heah in the hills to live a long, happy life. Wy' the youngest of us is nearin' 103, ol' Jeb Stump over yonder. Anywaze, try to remember these here things . . .

Fishin' takes . . .

  • Patience. Lots of patience. Life is the same way. The folks who are always running over themselves are the ones who lose the race. You don't see fish in a hurry, so why should we always hurry from one place to the other? And let me tell you. The patience I learned from my fishing trips that I take most everyday, I used that patience to win the heart of my sweet Loweesie, back in my house now hard a work over the wood stove I gave her last Christmas to cook my pinto beans and cornbread. Yes. Patience, young man. Patience.
  • Silence. No use spending your entire life running your mouth. If you run your mouth all the time when you are fishing, you will go home with an empty stringer. Don't say anything unless it's to help another person or it means something. The rest is just a waste of the good breath that The Good Lord gives us.
  • Relaxation. Ever seen any beaver get stressed-out building a dam? No, I didn't think so. You can do your job a lot better if you are relaxed. No matter what you do. Wash dishes, dig ditches, fly a plane, teach school, drive a truck, it doesn't matter. Being tensed-up leads to headaches, neck aches, and pains in the lower back. Who in their right mind needs that, young feller? If you are tense while you are fishing, you will not know when the fish takes the bait. Same way in life. If you are always tense, you will not know when opportunity is knocking for being so tense that your ears cannot function right. Relax, like I do.
  • Laugh. Everyday. Laugh at something. Even yourself, not other people. The Good Lord might take a dim view of that. Laughing is good for you. Know the last time I visited a doctor? I can't recall the last time I visited a doctor. You see, I try to laugh all the time. Everyday. It doesn't hurt to have a long, healthy laugh. To make my point, have you ever seen a sad hyena? Okay then. Laugh. And live longer.
  • Napping. Now some stuffy people in the big cities believe that napping every day is only for little kids, but not so. Napping is a way of life up here in the mountains. After we, well, them that DO work in the fields or gardens, come in for dinner, they always take a nap before they go back to work. I just skip the work, have my dinner, and nap. I'm pushing 80, young feller and feel like I am still courting Loweesie. There's a lot about naps we need to learn.
  • Getting Upset At Little Things. This, young feller, is the biggest blunder most people from our parts of the world and yours make ever-day. Letting little things get under their hide and make the fur on their backside stand up. And for what? A fit to be throwed and be scolded by the preacher, sheriff or your wife? Not worth it, young feller. Not worth it.
  • Not Letting Driftwood. settle in your 'dam,' meaning to not let the useless, negative words, phrases or thoughts lodge in your mind. Or it will stay there. Grow there and before long, you won't have a clean mind to think with. Just let the driftwood things in life do what driftwood does . . .drift on down the stream. You will be a better man for letting it go.

Napping? Apparently Snuffy Smith firmly believed in napping . . .

for he suddenly just dozed off in a sleepy stupor and in all honesty, wasn't from 'corn squeezings.' So I took him at his word. I put my fishing pole securely in my hand and found it very difficult to stay awake with the peaceful creek singing it's soft songs to us and all the creations of nature living in harmony--I had to remind myself, again, that I wasn't in Heaven, but the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

I don't know just how long Snuffy and I napped, for when we woke up, he was as glib as a school boy with a new pencil. He was holding up a huge catfish that had attached itself to his hook while he slept. I wasn't so lucky. I only snagged an honery snapping turtle that Snuffy said to take along with us for Loweesie had a special recipe for snapping turtles for when the Sunday preacher came for a visit.

It was simply amazing. Simply, without any complexities, how these simple mountain folk utilitze everything in their lives to add to their lives. I was going to throw the snapping turtle back into the creek, but you see, Snuffy Smith, in his years of hill and life knowledge, demonstrated to me, just how the simple things can mean so much if you only take time to look for them.

As Snuffy Smith and I walked back up the long and winding mountain trail, I asked him, "Is one catfish all that you are going to catch today, Snuffy?" "Yeep. (then he spit more tobacco juice), that's all I can eat, sonny," he said gathering speed up the trail.

"But what about your wife, Louis..wee, uh, " Snuffy interrupted, "Loweesie, that's her name. She's already got her supper. I caught her favorite fish yesterday, a big bream and she gonna have that wiff some cornbread, cracklins, and greens. Are you staying for supper, young feller?" Snuffy asked with such humbleness in his voice. "No sir, I have to get back to the city and get back to work," I said.

Then I said it. "The" ugly word . . .

"Hurry, Snuffy! We got to get up this trail so I can get back to work. I bet that my desk is already piled up from my being away up here with you," I exclaimed almost out of breath.

"Dagnab it! Dagnab yore miserable hide! What did I gest get through telling ye back yonder? What did I tell ye' to memorize to how to live a long, happy life?" Snuffy barked as loud as any coon dog that I had ever heard in my childhood days back in Boonesborough, Kentucky. Snuffy was irate. Upset. Red in the face. From anger, not liquor. Snuffy Smith was passionate about his 'secret of life' principles that he had shared with me. I had made the terrible blunder of using the word 'hurry,' out of habit. That would not happen again. At least around Snuffy.

"But look, Snuffy!" I replied. "You are getting upset at a little thing. That was one of the things you were telling me about--to not get, how did you put it . . ."git ye' fur all up on ye' backside at a gnat landing for a rest?" Is that it?" I asked.

Snuffy looked at me and could have taken my life with the fire in his eyes. His medium-built body trembled. His hands were shaking. All of a sudden, all of the signs of anger and being irate ceased just like a summer shower in this 'paradise in the south.' Then Snuffy looked at the ground and said, "Yeep, you are right, young feller. I wuz, uh, wrong. I ain't wrong that much, but tha time, I wuz wrong. Shouldn't have raised my fur at ye'," And that was his way of apologizing.

"So what do I do when "I" get upset, Snuffy?"

"Just watch, young feller. This works all the time," Snuffy said putting his fingers to his lips to make a piercing whistling sound.

"Best cure for what eats at ye' . . ."

Snuffy said as he and his dog, Ol' Bullet strolled off together like to best buddies that hadn't seen each other in years. I sat down on a tree stump at the top of the trial and rested while I reflected back on everything Snuffy had taught me about the secret of life.

I was so foolish. Naïve. Gullible as to believe that the secret of life comes in a bottle. How do fools like myself walk around in public? That is a mystery that I may never solve. But Snuffy did say to not let 'bad driftwood lodge in ye', your dam' and I am sure he meant our minds, and he was right. Too many times in my life I have beaten "me" up more than any bully in a dark alley on a Saturday night. I think that I will put Snuffy's secret of life ideas into motion the very moment I get back to work in the city. Yeahhhh, in---the---big---city with the bumper-to-bumper traffic, people running like rats after cheese, air to dirty you can write you name on it.

Then, before I could think anymore, Snuffy and his dog, Bullet came back from their 'get-well walk' as Snuffy said. I was in a personal dilemma. Whether to go back, right then, to the big city to my stuffy office, or just stay a few more minutes with Snuffy, Loweesie and Bullet.

"Cornbread? Do I smell cornbread, Loweesie?" Snuffy asked with a hungry look on his face.

"Yes, my love. Cornbread, collard greens with ham, black eye peas, my big bream fish that you caught fer me yesterday and some good old buttermilk and sweet potato pie for dessert. Is that fittin' for ye?" Loweesie asked with a sure confidence in her voice.

Snuffy, for being hungry I guess, only nodded in agreement with Loweesie's supper selections.

And there it was.

My dilemma of whether to go back to the big city right then or hang out with Snuffy Smith, Loweesie and Bullet a while longer

was solved.

Do I really have to tell you what my choice was?


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