This is an eyewitness report from the NowPublic member StandUpToRacism who was on the scene.
Once Wealthy, Man has lived in his Pick-Up Truck for 27 Years!
Gadsden, AL - Original Reporting by Will Bevis. Nextgame@aol.com
Once Wealthy Man Has Lived in His Pick-Up Truck for 27 Years... And His Only Wish is to Work in... Obama's Garden. A True Story.
UPDATE! A campaign has been started to try to make "Pokey" Smith's dream of working in Presdent Obama's garden, come true. If after reading this story you wish to help, go to the below link, which tells "How to Help One Homeless man. Right Now. In one minute." Thank you.
Besides writing part time, I work on a loading dock full time, and know a lot of semi-crazy truck drivers.
They are always shooting the breeze, and a lot of it is just pure, unadulterated, exxageration.
That's why one day, when we were talking about how hard things were getting, and a driver told me he knew a man who has lived in his truck for 27 years... I just said, "Yeah, sure," and ignored him.
Over the course of several months he kept telling me about this guy... until finally it sunk in, that he might actually, somehow be telling the truth. There might be a grain of truth to it.
He said the guy's name was "Pokey" Smith.
And now finally, I have met him. Today, this morning. Just now.
And after meeting him and spending about four hours with him, I believe I can tell you without a doubt several things:
First, Pokey Smith HAS lived in his pick-up truck... for twenty seven years.
The second is that he is the most independent, good natured, and friendly - man I have ever met...
And third, at least in his younger days, he would take no you know what from any man alive.
The fourth thing I can tell you, is that, as far as I can tell, Pokey Smith doesn't have a dime to his name right now, whereas once, he was the richest man in the area he lives in.
The fifth thing I can tell you is this: That Pokey Smith has something all the money in the world can not buy.
And that is REAL friends.
And I hope that, after today, he will count me as one.
Something happened to Pokey when he was a young man, and he has never forgotten it. And when disaster hit years later and he lost everything he had, he remembered the moral of the story of what happened to him... and made a choice... as to how he would survive, and go on living.
What happened when he was young, was that one cold winter the power company cut off the power to his family's house - where he lived with his mother and father and 11 other kids. (Eleven boys and one girl, Shirley. Pokey was the middle boy.)
Why did they cut the power off? Because Pokey's dad owed them 75 cents. Yes, you read that right. Seventy-five cents.
When a representative of the power company came out to talk to them, he apologized for cutting the power off - but only after Pokey slapped him around "a little bit."
The lesson that the power company could pretty much do what they want, no matter how cold it was on top of a mountain in Alabama in the Winter time... was not lost on Pokey.
Evidently he stored away in his mind that moment... the seeds of an idea that would lead - after a financial disaster destroyed him -to spend EVERY night of the next 27 years ... in the cab of his pick-up truck.
Think about it. Tonight when you lay down on your comfortable bed... Pokey Smith is laying down in the front seat of a pick-up truck. And Pokey is no little man.
He has no mortgage... and the power company can not cut off his power - because he doesn't have any.
How did this all begin?
Pokey's mom and dad somehow ended up as young people, on the top of a mountain 9 miles long and 3 miles wide. Pokey said he had no idea how why they had come here from Ohio, except that he thought they might have eloped.
When they did get here, they farmed. And so did their children. Pokey plowed his first field - alone - at a very early age. Five. He showed me the very field. There is a house on it now. And I do not mean he plowed it with a bright green and yellow new John Deere Tractor.
I am talking about with a mule. He still remembers the mules name. It was Toney. He said, "Mules like kids, I reckon." Because the mule worked with him not against him.
Him and that mule were such good workers, many of the other families wanted him to plow for them.
When he was not plowing himself, he was the "waterboy" for women working in the field. That's where he got his nickname. He was carrying a huge water jug under each arm one day and stumbled on a rock and broke both jugs. He had to turn around and go all the way back to the well and get some more. One woman called out, "If you don't get us some water over here soon boy, I'm gonna have to call you "Pokey!"
He said it took a while, and "By the time I got over to those thirsty ladies... my name was "Pokey."
And it has been ever since.
And he worked his way up on top of that mountain. With just a few setbacks.
The worst setback was the guy who came into the pool hall Pokey was playing in and without warning threw two pool balls straight and hard at Pokey - both of which hit him full force in the forehead. Pokey went down. Then the guy promptly broke a pool cue over his head.
Pokey Smith got up and beat "the stew" out of the guy... who did some prison time.
That has to be one of the only people in the world who didn't like Pokey.
Before the fight, when he was still younger, the other boys he used to play cowboys and Indians with in the huge boulders around HorsePens 40 sure liked him -as in their boredom they played their games with real 22 calibre rifles and real bullets... and not one person got shot. Pokey said, "You had to keep your head down." Way down I imagine.
Later, When Pokey was a teenager and times were hard, he went to Florida to work in the Orange Groves. He said he "walked out of Florida the first time with $730.00 stuffed in his socks - he was fifteen years old - and was "bringing money home to show my mom."
He said he slept in the Ochefenochee(sp) Swamp. I believe him. If anybody could do that, this guy could.
The second time he went to Florida he was 19 and came back with more money. Eighteen hundred dollars. There was a man on the mountain that told him he would help him buy land, if Pokey would build a house on it. Not only did Pokey buy the farm - for $4,500.00 total - and build a house, he built the first BRICK house on that mountain. And in five years, he was worth One Hundred Thousand dollars... all in his early twenties. (He is 68 now.)
(We drove to the house and walked around. He showed me a huge tree in front of the house he had planted when he was just a kid. I saw the place on the concrete porch where he had slipped jumping up on it one Friday the thirteenth countless years ago, causing him to fall face first and break his nose.
There had been a wooden house on the spot where he had built the brick one, where his family had sharecropped as a kid. He pointed to the place where as an infant he tried to crawl into a washtub while the women were washing, and the far side came up and cut him above the eye. The scar was still there. Life was not easy.)
Pokey said when he first built the brick house, people would come for miles around, just drive up into his yard and say, "We just wanted to see your brick house."
After he bought the land and built the house, Pokey started working and built the area into the biggest farm on the Mountain. He sold acres upon acres of tomatoes not only to three packing houses, but to seven other farmers as well.
Things were going wonderful.
But not everyone was happy. Pokey was putting some of the other farmers out of business. They could not compete with him.
But the money was rolling in for Pokey.
The man who first told me about Pokey, told me Pokey had at one time been a millionaire. I asked Pokey point blank if it was true. He said that no, actually at this time he was only worth half a million. Only half a million.
That was 27 years ago. And I imagine half a mil is worth way more than a million today.
He said at one time a banker called him and wanted him to meet with some big executives. At that time he didn't even know how much money he had.
But then... disaster struck.
That season he planted 800,00 tomatoe plants. Yes, eight hundred thousand tomato plants.
They were ready to be picked. It was a Saturday though, and his field workers did not want to pick them right away. They wanted to go to the big flea market in town.
They talked him into waiting. What would be the harm in waiting one more day?
He gave in.
Then the harm came. With the workers gone Pokey was out in the fields when a dark cloud came up.
Then came the hail. Ten hard driving minutes of it. Pokey had to dive for cover in his truck. When it was over the ground was eight inches deep in hail. Pokey said it was just like a big snow... but of hail. It was a freak of nature. It was too late in the season for anything like that to happen. But it happened anyway.
It was all ruined. Every last tomatoe. Back at his house, people sat on the porch and cried.
Pokey did not cry. He never cried. He was ruined, that was all there was to it.
All he could think of was, Now what would he do now?
He didn't get no handouts, no bailouts. And he didn't ask for any.
There ARE some things Pokey will not talk about. Like how the storm effected his family. My understanding is that he has two brothers living, but that they don't get along very well.
But the end result was this. He sold his brick house, and with the money bought his wife another house to live in. Then he packed his suitcase and left.
And began to live in his truck.
That was 27 years ago.
And he has no regrets.
We sit in a truck stop restaraunt and talk about it.
He said he was sick for nine days one time. Other than that, every night he has slept in that truck.
And people all around eagerly volunteer that it is true. It is all true.
I ask him how many trucks he's been through and he tells me three, then rattles of the make and color of each one. He said all three had cost less than $1,000 - and the one he has "now only has $350.00 cash money in it."
He said he has a bank account, but it has no money in it.
He tells me he wants me to put in the story "how to survive," that you can do it. It can be done. He has done it.
You don't have to have a mortgage. You don't need the power company.
You CAN survive.
A friend of his at the table says, "You damn right!" He says you go down to the Jimmy Hale Mission (in Birmingham) and you can only stay one night. Pokey has spent 27 years in a truck."
I ask him, "You never fudge? You never cheat? You are in that truck sleeping every night?"
He said, "I don't need no thirty thousand dollar truck. I get by."
I said "What about the cold?"
He said he had a sleeping bag if it goes down to zero.
His friend chips in, "Hell, I get cold in bed, and I live in a house. You can stay warmer in that truck than you can in a house."
"And nobody's ever come up and tried to rob me," Pokey said. He parks his truck every night in a good friend's yard. The friend has told him he can stay in the house at night, but Pokey says no.
He won't do it. He'll go in every now and then to watch sports and the news, and that's it.
I ask him how he sleeps at night. He says he sleeps 8, 9, 11 hours at a time. No problems.
In the day time he goes to the restaraunt and talks to his friends while drinking sweet tea.
I buy him tea and I notice that everybody does know him... and seems to love him. He does have friends. A lot of them.
One of his friends says, "You know he had the first brick house on the mountain." I do know.
I ask him how many people lived on the mountain when he was young. He said not as many as there are now, there's like 15 goats up there - 'bout the same number as vote.
I ask him again about the cold, cause I live on a mountain and I know how cold it gets up high, much less down below.
He said that over the years the temperture had dropped to about 12 degrees below zero a couple of nights, but that he had stuck it out - "Freezing and greezin'" as his friend added.
I asked him if he ever thought he was going to freeze to death.
He admited that once it had dropped below even 12 degrees, and he had to spend part of the night in a service station supply room. I did not ask him if he had to break in to the place to do that.
Pokey's friend tells him, "Tell him about the guy that laid you out once."
Pokey added more to the pool room story. "The guy tried to kill me but he didn't make it. I hadn't even drank a beer when it happened. I needed plastic surgery but I didn't get it. He came in and hollered at me by my name and I just barely knew him. I got up out of the foor and I survived."
Then Pokey adds, "But he better not walk in here right now."
I learn that Pokey had also been a hell of a basketball player in his youth, and that he was well known for his agricultural skill... back in "the day."
Not only could he successfully cultivate acres of anything...
but he always had a great garden as well.
He told me how an official State of Alabama limo had pulled into his yard one day, some time before the storm, saying they had heard about him and his farm and wanted some of his produce. He'd filled their car up with everything they wanted and sent them back to Montgomery. It had been George Wallace's wife's crew, and she sent him a thank you note.
I asked him if he had any regrets about the kind of life he was living now. He told me "None. None at all."
Then he said, "Some people say I drank up my farm, and if I'd left the women alone I'd be ok. But that isn't true. I lost $54,000.00 in that hail storm. That's what turned it around. Then a couple of droughts after that - it just put me under. I just got to the point I didn't want to do it any longer.
And he didn't.
He said, "A lot of people would be bitter, but I'm not."
I asked him if the "hail storm" had been the worst thing that had ever happened to him.
He said, no, that the fight had been. He said that after it was over he had fallen to the floor and they had pronounced him brain dead. But he had come out of it. They had called the family in and he had just woke up, and told them he wanted to go home. But the doctor sent him over to a mirror and told him to look in it. His head had swollen up as big as a gallon bucket.
That was the worst thing. Almost dying. Losing his farm and the money, he could live with that.
Then I asked him what was the best thing that ever happened to him, and he just said humbly, that there were just too many to mention.
I guess after almost dying, everything is a blessing.
I asked him about food, saying, "Pokey, in these 27 years, have you ever been hungry?"
He said, " I went five days without eating one time. But some people bring me food... I take it - I reckon I'm supposed to."
We talked about his clothes. He said he gets them from the Goodwill, and that he hasn't bought much new clothes since the "day." He said some friends bring him new clothes though.
He said, "I don't ask nothing from nobody - but my friends give me things I need. And they still come."
I asked him about his health. He said that he went to a doctor one time and that right away the Doctor stopped and said, "Ain't no need to go any farther. You need three operations."
He had a couple, but still needs one more. Because he can not see well.
Then I ask him again if he had any regrets, if he ever wished he could change something, and his answer completely surprised me.
He said, "If I had a chance, and they'd ask me, I'd a'flew up to Mr. Obama's, and helped him plant that garden. That would have been a tradition."
Up until that moment politics had not been brought up. I stay away from it because it can be dangerous to talk about it down here. I told Pokey that, and he told me that he was not a racist.
Earlier he had told me that someone in his family's past had been "Dutch" and Jewish. A woman. As well as the fact that his mother's father was full blooded Choctaw Indian.
I told him that had probably made him more tolerant... and more open to "liking" Obama than others around here.
He said, "I still believe if you show some patience, he'll show you some good things. I believe he wants everybody to be equal... like native Americans. That race doesn't matter. We are ALL God's children."
He is preaching to the choir now, and I tell him I am pretty surprised, considering this is Roy Moore, Jr. country. The ex-judge lives just a few miles from here. And apparently about to make another run for Governor.
We talk about Moore briefly, even go on hunt to see where he lives, but that is another story.
I ask Pokey what he sees for his future. He tells me that he knows, because of his age, he won't be able to live in the truck much longer. That this might be his last year. He may have to get an apartment somehow.
We are back at the restaraunt now, after he has given me the tour of his mountain, and after we have failed to find Roy Moore Junior's house.
I ask him "Pokey, what do you want in life?"
He says, "All I want to do is come here, and be around my friends."
We drink another couple of glasses of sweet tea together, and I shake his hand, tell him how much I have enjoyed his story...
And then I head back to my home, my house, my bed, my computer - all the things most Americans take for granted ... to type this.
And if you were to ask me right now what I wanted in life, it would be this:
President Obama... out of all the billions you will be bailing out the big and mighty with...
can't you please find a job working in your garden...
for "Pokey" Smith.
He knows tomatoes, and will help give you the best garden you have ever dreamed of.
And will probably work for only room and board.
A real bed.
He hasn't come to you asking for unwarrented bonuses or golden parachutes.
He hasn't asked anybody for anything in 27 years.
Instead... I am asking for him.
What do you say, Mr. President?
April 20, 2009.