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Some Simple Rhymes

Cover of Great-Grandad’s self-published book

Happy New Year to you all! Hope you survived the holidays intact, and that you may have even come away from the experience with some pleasant experiences and memories.

Family gatherings over the holidays can always be fraught, and there’s always the risk of having some difficult family memories come to the surface. Sometimes, good things come to the surface. This happened to me, and I’m pleased to share it with you now in the spirit of promoting a beneficial 2023.

I had written before about how the urge to self-express through self-publishing runs in my family, with both my brother and my uncle self-publishing books, and an aunt who is still working on a romance novel. As I visited with my family earlier in November, I received a copy of a book of poetry that had been self-published by my great-grandfather. I remembered hearing about this book when I was young, and thinking that it was very cool that I was related to someone who had written and published a book. So I was thrilled to get a copy of that book.

Titled Some Simple Rhymes, it was written by Great-Granddad, James Crawford Smith, sometime in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, not much more is known about it. Great-Granddad passed away in 1915, over twenty years before my father was born. I pestered Dad about the book, but he didn’t know much more about it that what I’ve already described. The title page doesn’t reveal much more:

Title page of Some Simple Rhymes

The pseudonym “Jay Cee” was doubtless related to Great-Granddad’s work as a minister. A lot of the poetry in the book is of a religious nature as well, but not all of it. Here’s a good example:

GOOD-BY AND FORGET

‘Tis easy to say forget,

‘Tis easy to say good-by;

But the scenes we love, they are with us yet,

And the faces bright with the friends we’ve met

Are ever before the eye.

‘Tis easy to turn away

From the home we used to know;

But its form and outlines with us stay,

And its memories haunt us day by day

As the seasons come and go.

‘Tis easy to say farewell

To the joys of olden time;

But their pleasant echoes with us dwell,

And in oft recall still they tell

Their story most sublime.

‘Tis easy to cease to prize

Old friendships true and pure;

But the good they have done us never dies

And the thoughts of our loved ones ever rise,

And will while our lives endure.

‘Tis easy to be engrossed

With the busy scenes of life;

But we ne’er forget the peace we’ve lost,

And saddened hearts we count the cost

Of the weary toil and strife.

‘Tis easy to say good-by,

‘Tis easy to say forget;

But the past with its teachings cannot die,

And the years that have vanished still seem nigh

With the forms of the friends we’ve met.

Is it good poetry? I’m not in a position to judge, not having studied much in the way of poetry. I mean, it’s got a good meter and you can dance to it, but other than that, I’m not sure. The topics of the poems certainly a reflection of the time and place, and there are sentiments expressed that would certainly seem archaic and perhaps even offensive to some now.

Still, I believe that even the dated attitudes are intended with a spirit of love and hope. Great-Granddad was a minister in Port Townsend, Washington in the early twentieth century. At the time, Seattle was gaining its place as the main hub of shipping and industry in the Puget Sound area, while Port Townsend was slowly losing out. Nevertheless, it was still a thriving port city in the early 1900’s, with all of the vice and skullduggery that went along with it. Great-Granddad railed against that vice, as would be expected of a preacher of that era. However, he still managed to retain his hope for redemption and love for his neighbors. When he passed away, those he’d railed against – the brothel madams and gamblers and ne’er-do-wells of Port Townsend – all showed up to pay their respects to the man.

Would that I could write with the love and conviction that James Crawford Smith did. I appreciate that he left this legacy that can inspire me even now. Thanks, Great Granddad!


Published inself-publishing

4 Comments

  1. Irene Pomerinke Irene Pomerinke

    Hello! I came across your blog post while doing a bit of research on a book I have,. seems I have a deluxe leather/suede covered copy of your great-grandad’s book. I worked in a Port Townsend book shop for over 20 years and no doubt picked it up there. I am in the process of downsizing and found the book while going through my books. Would you be interested in having my copy of the book? I so I will send it to you.

    • Crawford Crawford

      Hello Irene,

      Thank you for reaching out. Of course I would be interested in the book! If you worked in a Port Townshend bookshop for 20 years, you must have been familiar with Loompanics, correct?

  2. Ben Williams Ben Williams

    Greetings!

    Did you know that your Great Grandfather’s poetry is quoted in the pioneer history book By Juan de Fuca’s Strait by James G. McCurdy? The book tells the early history of Port Townsend. The first chapter starts with a piece of his poetry:

    The cloud and sea, transformed to gold,
    Bewitch our wondering eyes
    Till the view by Juan de Fuca’s strait
    Seems a glimpse of Paradise
    -J.C. Smith

    Apparently he was also pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in P.T. McCurdy writes this about him, in reference to the rebuilding of that church:

    “The collapse of the boom before the church was finished, left a heavy load of debt upon the shoulders of the dwindling congregation; but with the close of the century, through the efforts of Rev. James Crawford Smith, then the pastor, the mortgage was paid off and all other obligations settled. The lusty hawthorn trees growing in front of the church were planted by Rev. Smith. He brought them from Northern Ireland, when returning from a visit to his birthplace.”

    (By Juan de Fuca’s Strait, 97)

    I don’t know if the church or the hawthorns still exist.

    Maybe you already knew this. Anyway, I find it fascinating that his descendants still live in the area and seem to have inherited his literary ability!

    • Crawford Crawford

      This is very interesting information – I will have to get a copy of McCurdy’s book. Apparently the McCurdys and the Smiths were close, so it’s little surprise that some of Rev. Smith’s poetry wound up in J.G. McCurdy’s book. Apparently, my grandfather was best friends with J.G.’s son, Horace.

      I have visited the church, but not in 20 years. The church still stands and so do the hawthorn trees, which are apparently a source of pride for the congregation. Last year, the church celebrated 150 years of ministry.

      Thanks again for your comments!

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