The Farm Chronicles: Happy Jim and No Filter Camels

The summer of 1969 shortly after I turned 14, Dad decided to expand the horse business marked by the building of a 30 ft X 60 ft horse barn. He had a crew come in and drill the holes and set the poles and the trusses—in other words, frame it out. The rest was up to “us,” really me. Dad was working long hours delivering fuel from our gas and oil business to farmers, and he pretty much left it up to me to build the rest of that horse barn. We would talk about what needed to be done and he would give me brief instructions on how to do it, then take off for his work day. I often would be standing before that barn frame and just staring at it, thinking “I don’t know nothin’ about any of this.”

It came time to get the barn under roof. I was sliding 4 X 8 sheets of plywood up a ladder one at a time and balancing across the rafters to lay them in place, nail them down, and hope I had them going in the right direction. The July sun was hot and this was tedious and strenuous work for a 14 year old who wasn’t confident about what he was doing. I had about a third of it done and was starting to get a good rhythm when my grandfather Wilson drove into the barnyard. I knew it was him, not only by the car, but because the car looked like there was no driver. Grandpa “Billy” (my namesake) was about 4’10” and you could never see him driving. He couldn’t see over the steering wheel, so he looked through it, just over the dashboard.

Grandpa was born in 1889. So he was now just shy of 75 years old. And he wanted to help. I wasn’t sure about letting him climb up the ladder and crawl around on those rafters, but he insisted. As it turned out, we were quite a team as we worked together sliding the plywood sub-roofing in place and nailing it down. I never knew Grandpa to be without a chaw of tobacco in his cheek. And that day, he asked me if I wanted some of his Happy Jim. I told him that mom probably wouldn’t approve, but he insisted that since I was working like a man, I should chew like one. He had an ornery streak, and I think I was about to be had. I put that tobacco in my mouth and it wasn’t long I was getting sick to my stomach and had to spit it out. He got a good laugh on that one as he lit up his Camel no filter and took a puff.

Grandpa and I finished the sub-roof that day. He told me a lot of old stories and we had a great time while we were working. He told me that he began chewing tobacco and smoking when he was 14. He had smoked and chewed every day since then. Doc Owens had told Grandpa Billy that Happy Jim and Camels would be the death of him. Matter of fact, Grandpa outlived the good doctor and passed away just short of his 97th birthday. I tried the Happy Jim, never tried the Camels. But the Happy Jim didn’t make me feel so happy. The memory of building the barn with my Grandpa does make me happy. Like Mary in Luke 2:19, I have treasured all these memories, “and pondered them in my heart.” Yep, Happy Jim and Camels.

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Bill Wilson

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