Jimmy Joe Smith

Born in Shreveport but raised in Coushatta, Louisiana, Jimmy was one of five children of Eddie Leroy Smith, a construction worker, and heavy equipment operator, and Edna Lucille Smith, a waitress. The family lived in a two-bedroom rental home. "It was crowded; it was really crowded," he said of the house. "When I was growing up he was always gone," he says of his father. "I never did get to know my dad very well." His mother worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., while the children stayed with his maternal grandmother, Susie Lewter. To help with the family income, Jimmy began working after school and on weekends at age nine on a twelve-acre truck farm owned by Herbert Huckaby, where he drove a tractor, planted and picked vegetables, and milked cows and goats. He was making twenty dollars a week, and giving it to his mother. "Mr. and Mrs. Huckaby taught me a lot of things growing up, and I haven't forgotten them," he says. Jimmy quit school in the ninth grade to work full-time at a service station in Armistead, Louisiana. "With her job and my job we barely survived, but it was a good life," he says of his and his mother's employment. "I didn't have things I wanted but I was happy." The family attended church each Sunday, where he sang in the choir. Jimmy was sixteen when his mother died. For four months he lived above a pool hall. For its proprietor, Jack Brown, he cleaned the pool hall and worked as a stable boy for his race horses, earning seventy-five dollars a week. Soon, however, he moved into the home of his half-brother, Jerry Sam Lewter, and went to work for Wilco Truck Rental as a wash man. There, he also learned to drive diesel trucks. Jimmy operated a Union 76 Truck Stop in Houston, then hauled freight to the Houston Ship Channel for Cainer Exports. While in Houston, he and his girl friend, Charletta, drove to her hometown in San Carlos, Mexico, forty-five miles from the U.S. border to visit her family over a weekend. Car trouble caused him to overstay his visa. He was denied re-entry into the United States, and told he needed a copy of his birth certificate. He tried in vain to have it sent to him. Weeks turned into months, a birth certificate sent to him was lost in the mail. Meanwhile, he worked on Charletta's family farm while waiting for the document, soon learned the language, customs, and other ways of life in a village in which he drove the only car. When he first arrived, he says, some of the children had never seen a white person. "They followed me like a bunch of puppies," he says. He actually enjoyed life in Mexico, and learned to live simply, with few amenities. He drank water from deep wells, and took baths in water heated on an open fire and poured into a washtub. The men, he says, bathed first, the small children, last. He recalls parties for the girls when they turned fifteen, referring to the popular quinceaneras. "After it was all over she would pick one guy out of that group to be her boyfriend for that whole year," he says. "At the end of that year she had her choice to make this guy her boyfriend or her permanent mate." San Carlos, he says, celebrated the birth of Christ throughout December, with luminarias, and special clothing. "The ladies would make their own dresses, and the guys would dress up in their mariachi suits. Each night, around a bonfire, the people of God pretended to kill a person playing the part of Diablo, or devil," he says. He recalls San Carlos as a friendly village where everyone welcomed strangers to their homes. While he lived there, the village got electricity. After about two years and nine months he finally received in the mail his birth certificate. He moved to Fort Worth where one of Charletta's uncles worked for a steel mill. Jimmy stayed with them long enough to earn money for an apartment. He soon returned to Shreveport and began a career of several positions: rig-up driver in the oil fields for AL&W Trucking Company in Bossier City; drilling rig move for C.L. Moore in Oil City; scrap metal truck driver and foreman for General Scrap; construction worker at Don's Manufacturing. He then went to work for R.W. Norton Art Gallery in 2005. He married Sandra Broussard on August 11, 1991. Jimmy has four stepchildren with Sandra, and twelve grandchildren.