The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Smith Johile Adams - An Adams by Another Name

By Angie Gambill © 2015

Online: January, 2015

Smith Johile AdamsSmith Johile Adams(Editor's Note: Angie Gambill is Editor of The Tomahawk, the weekly newspaper in Mountain City, Tennesee. The Tomahawk has been in publication since the 1880s.)

The youngest of three sisters, I was my Daddy's last chance at immortality.

Faced with the fact that the Adams' family name would suffer an unceremonious death as we girls married and took other names that would be passed on to his grandchildren and future generations, Daddy was left with only one alternative ... to share the best part of himself with us, and in the process teach us who we are and where we come from. I was, and am, a country girl, born and bred. Daddy saw to that.

Watching baseball games together on summer afternoons was rarely a part of my childhood. Our Friday nights were never spent at the high school football game. And I barely recall basketball being in my vocabulary until I was a teenager. These were all sports for the town kids. And I was not a town kid.
Sports at our house consisted of fishing, hunting, target practice, and when I was really lucky, ginsenging. That may not sound like much to most people, but it was my world. And I loved it.

One of my favorite childhood memories is stepping off the school bus on a hot August afternoon to find Daddy waiting for me, fishing gear stashed in the back of our old pickup truck, a brown bag stuffed with Vienna sausages and crackers on the seat up front, and a twinkle in his eye that told me I wouldn't have to worry about homework that evening. One of the first lessons I learned from him was that education didn't stop at the doors of the school. "Mama, we're gonna go see if the bluegills are bitin'," I yelled through the screen door as I flung my books across the back porch toward the kitchen and ran to the truck.

A quick stop at the little store down the road to toss a couple bottles of Coke in the ice chest, and we were on our way.

An evening on the lake with Daddy was not remarkable. Our talks together never brought about universal peace nor solved the problem of world hunger. But one little girl came a bit closer to finding her place in this big and overwhelming world. Daddy's lack of extensive formal education didn't change the fact that he was the smartest man I knew, and I hung on his every word. He was a walking, talking wealth of information with an enthusiasm that brimmed over and soaked through to my soul.

We gently rocked back and forth as a cool breeze stirred the water under our little fishing boat. I stared intently at the tip of my fishing rod, not daring to shift my gaze for a second, lest I miss that first little bobbing of my line that alerted me to the nibbling deep beneath the surface. "Daddy, Daddy, I've got a bite!" I felt every muscle in my body tighten, waiting for just the right moment to give a little jerk on the line and hook my unsuspecting catch. I was certain, every time that I was reeling in 'the big one.' And Daddy never stole that feeling from me, not even when my 'big one' proved to be difficult to distinguish from the bait. "He was a real fighter! I thought sure he was 20 inches long!" he encouraged as he slipped the little fellow back into the water "to fight another day." No matter the size of my trophy, Moby Dick didn't have a thing on him in my eyes. The pride that swelled up inside could barely be contained in the scrawny frame that was me.

As the sun quietly sank behind the mountains and night crept in around us, our world shrank to the few feet of visible liquid surrounding us. Anything not swallowed up in the darkness was absorbed in the ghostly fog that swirled on the surface of the water. The soft breeze, so welcome only minutes before, now scratched at me with icy fingers, chilling me to the bone. The stillness was disturbed only by the muffled tones of fellow fishermen drifting on the night air.

But none of it mattered. Not the cold. Not the dark. Not even the eerie silence or the black depths beneath me. I was here. I was with my Dad. He had invited me to be part of his world; me, no one else, just me. And the warmth bubbling inside me dispelled any chill from outside.

Smith Johile Adams with the authors youngest son, Ryan Heath Gambill.Smith Johile Adams with the authors youngest son, Ryan Heath Gambill.As precious as our fishing trips were to me, I believe I enjoyed hunting and "ginsenging" even more. If the truth be told, these were merely excuses to spend all day romping in the woods. Equipped with the tools of our chosen sport ... bow and arrow, rifle or ginseng hoe ... off we went to bag our trophy. I should add at this point that Daddy was an excellent marksman, outshooting and outsmarting anyone foolish enough to challenge him. Yet I don't remember ever killing anything on our excursions. When he went hunting alone, we were sure to have squirrel gravy or rabbit stew for supper that night, but never when I went along. He always seemed satisfied to share the day with me, unraveling the mysteries of nature as we walked.

There was the time he woke me early in the morning to track a rabbit through the freshly fallen snow. I must have been about six years old. It didn't strike me as strange at the time that he was following about six feet behind me, carrying the gun. I was in front of him, following the little imprints out of our yard, through the now frozen garden, across a barbed wire fence, and finally up the hill behind our house. Then, without warning, the footprints just stopped. There was no rabbit in sight and no indication of where the little fellow had gone. To my child's mind, it seemed he had taken wing and just flown away. I turned to see Daddy signaling for me to be quiet and pointing to a tuft of high grass directly in front of me. "He's under there. Reach in and catch him," he whispered. As I timidly reached into the little shelter that had formed beneath the snow laden straw, my hands were trembling. I think it was more from anticipation than the cold air, as I thought about the warm little ball of fur that would soon be mine. To this day, I'm not sure who jumped higher when my fingers touched that rabbit's fur. When his feet hit the ground again, he was completely out of reach and almost out of sight. When my feet hit the ground again, I saw Daddy still standing in the same spot, slapping his knee and laughing so hard he could barely breathe. Thirty-five winters and countless snows later, that scene, and many others, still play in my mind's eye.

It's true that my Daddy's name may never make the history books. The name of Adams may belong to other men and other men's descendants. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren have already been written in the branches of other family trees. But the spark that is him will live on. It will live on after he dies. It will live on after I die.

My son comes in, barefoot and breathless, from popping ripe touch-me-nots on the creek bank, and I know it will live on. I feel it rise up inside me when the March winds blow and my memories soar on the kites that we flew together every spring. The sweet fragrance of wild honeysuckle drifts across a warm summer night, and it is reborn. His youngest grandchild stares in wonder at the little green sprouts pushing their way through the dirt where he buried an old potato, and I know it will live on.

The love and respect for the outdoors that Daddy instilled so deep in his children will never die. Our blood runs country. And country it will remain.