|Ernest Smith, Sr.|
Ernest Smith, Sr., was born in Cass, Texas September 8, 1925, to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith. Married to Gertrude Fowler-Smith for 38 years, Ernest lived in Austin for 37 years. He was employed at Alamo Steel for 28 years, where he worked as a welder, eventually moving up to foreman. He was well liked by co-workers and friends, especially by the owner of the steel company, where they called him Smitty.
Ernest left his home town when he was a teenager. No, he did not run away. He left home to "find himself", and to discover what he wanted to do with his life. He enlisted in the Army. He had dreams of becoming baseball player in the major league. He played ball in Tulia, Texas with a local team, but the small town playing did not take him closer to his dream. In those days it was difficult for a Black baseball player to break through the color barrier, no matter how skilled and talented he was.
While hanging out in Tulia he met Gertrude Fowler, mother of two daughters: my sister Marie and me. We were living in Austin with Big Mama (Leora), attending school. When school was out we went to Tulia to meet him, and lived there for the summer. What an experience that was! That was the first time I saw a dog with rabies. We had made friends with the kids living behind us, and one day we were outside swinging when one of the girls, familiar with rabied dogs, screamed "mad dog!" She told us to swing higher. One of her parents came out and ran the dog off. It was lethargic and foaming at the mouth. It's a wonder the swings did not fall over we were swinging so hard.
Upon returning to Austin, Ernest found work as a porter at Edmond J. Kneskek Service Station. On December 23, 1951 their first child together, a son, Ernest Smith Jr., was born. Not long after two daughters, Kaffey (an infant) and Rose Ann (1 year), followed. Rose Ann was a twin, but the other died at birth. In 1955 Smitty landed a welding job with Alamo Boiler and Machine Works.
Ernest was one of those "good stepfathers." But I do not think anybody knew him like we did--his kids. Nobody saw the side of him that we saw; a loving husband, dad and grandpa. He called his female children and grandchildren, not by their names, but "baby" and "sugar." His proudest moments were when he could look at his whole flock on holidays and smile with contentment.
He got pretty uptight when someone referred to his oldest daughters as his "step-daughters" or "stepchildren." He did not like those terms. Nor did he like the terms "half-brother" and "half-sister". "Y'all full sisters and brothers. Don't forget it," he would say firmly.
He did not complain out loud
Because Ernest was not a man to complain, none of us knew the extent of his illness until it was evident that something was terribly wrong. One night I got a call from my mother, telling me to come over and "talk to your daddy." She said he was sick but she could not get him to go to the hospital. Gertrude said to me, "You the only one your daddy will listen to."
"Mydaddy" as we called him, was in their bedroom, trying to relax sitting in his favorite father's present from me: a brown recliner. I could see that he was in pain, possibly irritated because the pain was making him vulnerable. He pretended to be okay. He did not like going to doctors, the reason he did not go for yearly physicals. I told him that he was the only daddy we had, and we all wanted to keep him alive and well.
"Daddy's alright, baby," he said. But I was not convinced. "I think you need to go to the hospital," I told him. After explaining again how important he was to us, he finally consented to go. We later learned that he was secretly drinking hard alcohol to relieve his pain. That in itself was unusual because he only drank beer. My mother found empty, half pint whiskey bottles under their bed.
When he went to the doctor a couple of days later, Ernest was admitted to the hospital. Tests and physical exams followed. The demon that delivered so much pain to his body was soon discovered. It was lung cancer and it was inoperable. The cancer had spread to his brain. We witnessed the mind crippling change in him. Our father was coherent one minute, incoherent the next. It broke our hearts to see him in that condition. He had always been so independent.
While in the hospital there were days he thought he was at work. I would pretend I was an employee, asking him what he wanted me to do. I even called him "Smitty." That what they called him at work. He would give me measurements for a piece of steel that he wanted cut in a specific way. On other days he lay in his hospital bed, quiet and reflective. Some days his pain was so great he resorted to crying, something his children and grandchildren had never saw him do. It did not help him emotionally to realize that he had to stay in the hospital.
One afternoon after work I visited him. I was glad I caught him alone. He had been crying. He cried while I was there. We talked for a couple of hours, covering all the things he had dreamed of doing in life. I was surprised to learn that besides baseball, he was interested in cooking. I had never seen him cook. I think in his mind he knew the things he dreamed of becoming were now out of reach. I felt sad for him. We had never sat and had a serious conversation before.
Ernest Smith, Sr., "Paw-Paw" to his grandchildren, was not ready to die. But there we were, left alone in a sterile hospital room, wondering why. Death never explains itself. When it reached for him, his body jerked, as if trying to get away. He died with his eyes wide open. I closed them before the nurse came into the room.
I remember it being a sunny afternoon, Monday, February 24, 1986, Brackenridge Hospital. It was a pretty day, 2:12PM. I remember thinking the day was too pretty and sunny to die. Mydaddy should have been on the river fishing, enjoying himself, drinking a cold beer, laughing and telling jokes; slamming dominoes down on a table, having fun with his buddies.
Ernest Smith, Sr., was 60 years old. Gertrude, his son Ernest Jr., daughter Marie and I were at his bedside at St. David's hospital. Rose Ann stepped into the room just as he passed. Man born of woman days are few and full of trouble, the Bible tells us. On that February day we wished Paw-Paw's days would have been more instead of few. It was a privilege to have known him.
Ernest Smith, Sr., left behind his wife Gertrude Fowler Smith, four daughters Marie Charles Ockletree, Rose Ann Smith, Kaffey Smith Nunn and Dorothy Charles Banks, all of Austin; two sons Ernest Smith Jr. of Austin and Leon Smith of Las Vegas. Paw-Paw was the grandfather to 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He also left behind a host of relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by a grandson Terrance Jermaine Smith, 2.
Funeral service was held at King Tears Mortuary Chapel, Saturday, March 1, 1986, 2PM. Rev. Victor Moriole, officiated. Internment was at Evergreen Cemetery.
Repblica of funeral program
Earnest Smith, Sr. was born in Bivins, Texas on September8, 1925 to Mrs. and Mrs. Frank Smith. Called Smitty by friends and relatives, he lived in Austin for 37 years. He departed this life on Monday afternoon, February 24, 1986. He was employed t Alamo Steel for 28 years. Earnest was married to Gertrude Smith for 37 years.
"Smitty" leaves behind his wife, Gertrude Smith of Austin, four daughters, Marie Ockletree, Rose Ann Smith, Kathy Nunn and Dorothy Banks, all of Austin; two sons, Leon Smith of Las Vegas and Earnest Smith, Jr. of Austin.
Earnest was the grandfather of fifteen grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He also leaves behind a host of other relatives and friends.
Sung by Marlon McGee
A Tribute to Our Father