Every summer when I was a kid, my uncle Dick from Pontiac, Michigan would bring his wife (my Mom's sister) Evelyn and their three boys Pat, Jim and Ed to Smock. Part of the ritual while they were in town was to eat pancakes, a mythical but legendary angelic food that must be common in Pontiac, since I never ate them at any other time. Another ritual was to go up to the field behind my house and shoot at bottles and tin cans with my uncle's .22 caliber rifles. For a kid from Smock, this was truly a glimpse of heaven. And thanks to the instruction of my uncle, I shot "expert" in the Air Force and have the ribbon and certificate to prove it.
The people that lived right through the wall of my circa 1895 duplex home had two sons, Thad and Bob, who also enjoyed the shooting when my uncle came to town. But they asked themselves, "why does it have to end when this guy goes back to Michigan?" They bought their own rifles, something that was forbidden in my home. But they saw fit to take me along with them to shoot at Number 4 bridge. (You guys have made countless memories for me).
Number 4 bridge was a railroad bridge that could be accessed two ways. You can drop over the hill behind my house to the Redstone Creek and follow upstream or you can walk down to the Smock post office and follow the railroad tracks. Either way, you found yourself at Number 4 bridge, a 50 foot high perch over the creek that had a walkway and railing that was made to rest a gun upon to steady your aim at the glass bottles and cans that became our moving targets in the wretched water.
For the benefit of the environmentalists, the Redstone Creek to this very day flows....orange. The source of this cotaminated sewer and stream was an old coal mine that closed because of a huge sulphur deposit. Water found its way in and through the mine and eventually found the Monongahela River, which is one of the three rivers that merge in downtown Pittsburgh. Yes, there is probably a six foot layer of broken glass just downstream of where the bridge used to be, but I don't know anyone who kayaks or swims in a creek that smells like rotten eggs. And Redstone is STILL is the primary sewerage deposit for many homes along its banks.
Over the past 50 years, Thad and Bob and I still found our way out to where the bridge used to be. (Someone took the iron and sold it for scrap). Our more modern access to the area is through the property of Ray McGill, a well known farmer who allowed us passage through his "lower forty" and down to the bridge. Ray never asked us for anything, but we felt that a couple of bottles of Four Roses or Imperial whiskey would be appropriate, as well as provide evening entertainment for Ray and his wife Cindy.
I never got to know Ray that well, other than to know him as a very happy individual. Maybe it was our "gifts" that made him happy? Maybe not. But yesterday, Ray McGill died at 55 years old. And since you don't know Ray, it is important for me to tell you that he had seven children; Daniel, Betty, Tammy, Amy, James, Mandy and Chad. And everyone knew of the McGill farm which was the first property you pass when you turn off Route 51 into Smock.
So another grave is dug and will soon be covered with fresh dirt. I guess it is inevitable that as I and many of my friends pass from decade number five on to decade six, there will be much more fresh dirt in those peaceful cemeteries in Smock.
Ray once described himself to me in rhyme, "Ray McGill lives over the hill, never worked and never will." Smock has many happy people. They played polkas at Mike Senker's post-funeral luncheon last week. I hope that tomorrow, after Ray is lowered to his final resting place, someone has the decency to play Hank Williams.