Local man explores history both near and far
May 14, 2013 10:58AM
Rod Smart with a small portion of his arrowhead collection. | Photo provided
Updated: June 16, 2013 6:05AM
“Here’s to the kids who are different,
The kids who don’t always get A’s
The kids who have ears twice the size of their peers,
And noses that go on for days...
Here’s to the kids who are different,
The kids they call crazy or dumb,
The kids who don’t fit, with the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum...
Here’s to the kids who are different,
The kids with the mischievous streak,
For when they have grown, as history’s shown,
It’s their difference that makes them unique.”
— Digby Wolfe
Like Claude Monet, Thomas Edison, Jack London and Walt Disney, Rod Smart didn’t graduate high school. Years later, he did earn a GED so he could get custody of his son, Tyler.
Smart, 51, has a Lake Village mailing address, but actually lives in an area known as Conrad, a once bustling burg, but now a ghost town. His house is literally a stone’s throw from where the town’s founder — Jennie Milk Conrad — once lived. Jennie’s house is no more.
As a kid, Smart lived mostly in Lake Village and Sumava Resorts. For the past 15 years, he has worked as a hired man for farmer Ron Styck. Rod loves his job and the people he works for.
His paternal grandmother, Edmere Gervais Smart, was of French stock and originally from St. Anne, Ill. Rod and I are not blood kin, but we do share the same Aunt “Sassy.”
Smart enjoys oil painting, wood burning, photography and collecting various artifacts. For the past three years, he has traveled to Thailand. Neither of us have hunted warm-blooded creatures for years, but after our interview, we did stalk the elusive and delectable morel mushroom.
We’d tell you exactly where, but then we’d have to kill you.
Memories of Sumava?
“We lived in the fifth house west of U.S. 41 on the north side of the road,” he said. “It was Father Woods’ house next to the tavern. My parents purchased it from St. Augusta Catholic Church in Lake Village.”
The priest imbibed a bit.
“Restaurateur Jimmy Lukes once told me Father Woods often would knock on the back door at like 3 a.m. wanting more beer. Jimmy would always serve him.”
Hey, let’s take a look at that arrowhead collection.
“I had an archaeologist tell me this axe head is from 6000 B.C.; it’s full-grooved.”
That thing is huge. What are those?
“Fish vertebrae that are millions of years old. These are large chunks of petrified wood I found right here in Newton County.”
What else do you have there?
“This is a nickel dated 1874. And this is a ‘good for one free drink’ trade token. I found these Indian Head pennies where there must’ve been a house at one time. Same with these clay marbles, mother-of-pearl buttons and porcelain doll parts.”
Very cool. What’s that?
“It’s a stem from a pipe. As you can see, it has ‘Montreal’ printed on it. They were clay trade pipes. The French traded items like pipes and beads to the Indians in exchange for furs.”
When did you really start collecting arrowheads and the like?
“About 20 years ago after I got sober. It gave me something to do. Life has gotten a lot better since I gave up the drink.”
Let’s switch gears. Thailand?
“There are two types of people. Those who like Thailand and those who love Thailand. I love Thailand. In 2010, I went for two weeks, in 2011 for three weeks and last year I stayed there for two months. Eventually, I want to live there. The people are very friendly and peaceful. It’s like a disgrace to get angry with somebody.”
You met someone over there.
“Yes, a very nice lady. I stayed with her last year. We traveled around Thailand together. She’s a seamstress.”
What’s her name?
“Rasi Sanuchit. Her nickname is Nok.
Financially speaking, are people real poor in Thailand?
“They get by. What impresses me about Thailand is it has a very low unemployment rate. Everybody works. Thais are very family-oriented as far as taking care of the elderly. They’re very respectful people. I love the culture.
“Another thing that I found impressive is they have a very high import tax. I wish the United States would do that. If another country wants to import something into Thailand, that country is going to pay dearly. That high import tax keeps the manufacturing base in Thailand. Thais produce their own clothing, motorcycles, furniture... . Thailand could get products from nearby China, but they don’t do it because of the tax.”
“Can you imagine if we had a 1.6 percent unemployment rate in this country? I really don’t want to talk politics, but I feel that instead of taxing us working people so highly, how about taxing the heck out of China and all the other countries that are importing goods into the United States?”
Tell me about some of the sites you’ve seen over there.
“I spent about five days in Ayutthaya, which is the ancient capital. The Burmese came in and sacked the area in the 1770s. I also went to the town of Fang where the government had provided mulberry trees to keep the silkworm production in Thailand.”
So exotic. What about mysterious Conrad?
“I love Conrad, too. That’s another childhood memory I have. When I was a kid, this wasn’t on my bus route, but I was going to stay with one of my friends after school. I remember riding his bus through here. We drove across the historic Upside-down Bridge spanning Beaver Ditch. I remember the way the gravel road curved through the woods to where the Sipes lived. Jeff, I also remember thinking to myself, ‘What a beautiful place this is.’ As a kid you usually don’t think about those kind of things. And after all these years, here I am living in Conrad.”
Rod Smart has seen and thoroughly enjoyed Thailand’s mysterious temples and ruins. But he’ll be the first to tell you Conrad has its ruins, too. And when some of us are among those mighty oaks where wild turkeys scratch, red-headed woodpeckers pound and the sponge mushroom emerges in the spring, we feel as if we’re walking through the most magnificent temple ever created.
But then again, maybe we’re just different.