Each fall as the corn is being harvested, soon to be followed by the crop of soybeans, my thoughts turn to the late Herman Smith. Our family called him Herman, but to everyone else he was Tocky. He lived at Remo in an apartment above a closed store, and he spent his life farming with the late Cecil Swann, whose family considered him to be a full-fledged member. He was one of the wisest individuals I ever knew.
Tocky was an authority on raising pigs, along with knowing about all aspects of agriculture. He thrived on producing grains, vegetables, animals and flowers. He could identify countless plants, be they flowers or weeds. He wasted nothing. After the corn was cut, he would walk through the fields collecting the ears that the combine had missed, amassing them as meals for his pigs or adding them to the overall harvest.
The vegetable garden that Tocky raised was awesome. He was an organic gardener before the concept became popular, and a true master gardener in his own right. He was most generous in sharing the bounty with friends and neighbors, along with explaining how he had produced each vegetable. He enjoyed shrubs, especially the flowering ones, and would comment on the aromas of the different flowers.
Tocky was industrious every waking moment of his life. In his rare spare time, he would walk along the roads, carrying a large plastic bag, picking up aluminum cans, which he collected until he got a sufficient amount to take to the collection point in Kilmarnock where a mobile recycling unit would buy the cans. The unit paid slightly more for crushed cans than for intact ones, and one could be sure that all of Tocky’s were crushed.
The news was another consuming interest for Tocky. He could discuss any subject of current debate, always expressing a common sense approach to the issues at hand. He did not tell jokes, but he offered gems of wisdom, all of which were self-taught or self-learned through experience.
Tocky spoke of having been an adopted child. He knew that some of his ancestors had been slaves and some others had been members of native tribes. If asked, he probably would have described himself as being first and foremost an American.
In his later years he developed a number of health problems, but he kept going as he always had. Sadly, a year before he died, the store in which he lived caught fire and burned. He had been a great proponent of wood heat, and apparently he had not realized that his chimney had needed to be cleaned. He moved to another nearby building, but his days were numbered, and he died shortly thereafter.
Cecil Swann came to the Northumberland County Board of Supervisors to obtain permission to bury Tocky on the edge of his field. I was serving on the board at the time, and the permission was given. Tocky’s graveside funeral was memorable. It drew a wide assortment of individuals, young and old, black and white, Been-heres and Come-heres, all sharing our memories of this remarkable man who had inspired numerous individuals.
At the time of his death the board was engaged in establishing the 911 road naming operation. We decided to name the short strip of roadway at Remo where he gardened, Tocky Lane. It remains to this day the shortest state road in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Tocky was an innovator, in many respects far ahead of his time. He recycled when others looked for trash cans. He gardened economically, knowing what to plant and when to plant it. He liked to read and share his knowledge with everyone who would listen. He was an unforgettable person to everyone who knew him.