Editor’s Note: Last week, Watson Smith shared stories from his childhood and about teaching and politics. Here is the rest of his story.
By Jackie Sikes
Part 2: In addition to his passion of helping others and serving his community, Watson had a real love for sports. In fact, he loved sports so much that he went through the 8th grade twice just so he could play ball an extra year.
“I was a stinker about athletics. I was crazy about baseball and I thought more about recreation and foolishness than I did anything else,” he said.
Besides your regular sports Watson enjoyed playing a game called “Steal the Sticks” with his friends, he did a lot of fishing, hunting and in his later years he found that he enjoyed golf.
“There is a story I can tell you about golfing. I was in Washington County, the war security department. I had a real good friend of mine get me to go and play golf with him. I said, ‘Bill I don’t play golf. I don’t want to chase a white ball and run it down.’ He said I would like it. Well, I didn’t have any clubs. He argued, ‘You can use my clubs,’ so I finally agreed to go with him. I teed off that little ole ball and I aimed it just straight down the valley, as straight as you can throw a ball. I had to go back the next day. My first day spoiled me, then I liked it. One of the reasons that I liked it so well is that I made a hole in one on the second game I played, a 73-yard hole in one. I liked it so much that I was 90 years old when I played my last game. “
Watson fondly recalls his youth and the many adventures he embarked upon. One such adventure occurred in the mid-30s when Watson was at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. He reports that they caught an elk. Yes, “caught,” not killed, an old bull elk that had only one horn. The elk was caught between a tree and a building out there.
Aside from wrangling wild animals, Watson was also a thrifty traveler. When Watson came back from a CCC camp, he went down to Los Angeles with another guy who told him that he had a job for him out there. The job didn’t pan out and not having but 55 cents to his name he had to hitchhike from Los Angeles back to Arkansas. He left Los Angeles with 55 cents and got home with 35 cents. During his journey Watson had to catch trains and car rides all the way to Little Rock. It was a long and sometimes dangerous trip he endured until he made it finally made it home safely. He and another guy came part of the way together. The other guy helped Watson out and spent a $1.50 for a meal for him. When Watson finally made it home, he sent the kind man a check right away and was grateful for his kindness. Almost home in Little Rock, Watson ran into a good Samaritan from Choctaw who picked him up and brought him the rest of the way home.
Now no life can truly be fulfilled without having experienced love, and Watson’s story is no exception. In 1937 Watson met his wife Celeste in a pick-up truck heading to the bottoms in Mississippi County to pick cotton. There were four people in the cab of that truck as they headed out to pick cotton. His family jokingly teases him that he met his wife in a cotton patch, but Watson was quick to correct them and say, “I met her in the pick-up. I rode with her to pick cotton. I didn’t pick cotton with her though.”
He said they “dated from 1937 to 1939 off and on, but we weren’t real crazy about each other at first.” The couple continued their “on again and off again” relationship that eventually moved them from Van Buren County to the University of Arkansas. Celeste’s sister and her husband rented a boarding house across the street from the college. They had eight boarders and needed some help, so Celeste went up there to cook “and I followed her up there.” There is a saying that says, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” and when asked if she was a good cook Watson replied, “Oh she’s tops.” There is suspicion that that’s why in September of 1939 he married her.
The couple was married for 73 years and had three children. Recounting his wedding he honestly states, “My wedding day started with a ball game in the afternoon, a football game. I went to the football game and I don’t know if I did or not but they said that I got so interested in the football game that I throwed my hat up and I forgot all about getting married. It was about 6 o’clock when I remembered and we went down to the Justice of the Peace on the corner of the college square and we got married. We didn’t have any honeymoon. We just went back to the boarding house that night.”
Celeste must have been gifted with a great deal of patience and understanding because she even cooked for Watson when they got back at the boarding house that night. Now having been married all those years, one wonders what the secret to a long happy marriage is. Watson will wisely explain it to you like this, “I was old enough to have a little common sense. I was 26 years old when we married and she was 20. We were both old enough and mature enough that we knew what was gonna happen. All couples have words once in a while, but we never had a fight in our lives. We had a few arguments I guess you would say, but we had a good life together. When we did have arguments I’d take a little and she’d give a little. We never did have any knock down drag outs. You give a little, take a little, and take a walk.”
With 100 years under his belt Watson has certainly learned a lot of lessons and with a memory that is “sharp as a tack,” he was full of great advice. To the million-dollar question, “What is the secret to a long life?” Watson jokingly replied, “Just do everything mean.” He continued, “No seriously, be the best you can and if that satisfies the public, then just back up and do it again.”
Watson has been his best for 100 years. He has served his community as an educator, his country with defense work, and his family as a husband and father of three.
Change is a part of life and Watson has seen his fair share of change. In Van Buren County he has seen his own, and countless other children he has taught, grow and mature into adults. He has loved and lost, laughed and cried. He has seen his lumber town community go from a bustling industry to a quiet country town. He watched the brisk railroad industry close down and heard their whistles silence as the hands of time marched on.
The Van Buren County Democrat is profiling some county residents and landmarks in occasional features. If you now of someone who would make a good subject, e-mail email@example.com or call 745-5175.