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Old mountain man offers words of wisdom

Herb Clabo is a genuine mountaineer. Now almost 100 years old, he used to live in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But when his property became part of the national park and he had to move, he relocated to a small house right on the park's border.

Herb is strong of body, with excellent hearing and sight. And lots of wisdom. He may be 100 on his next birthday, but I think he has a long time yet to live.

I met him because I sometimes stay in the time share across the road from his house. I stopped over to get acquainted. I didn't want to bother him but he said, "People only bother me when they don't come."

One day we started discussing food. He said, "The trouble today is, people just live to eat. You can't live to eat. You should eat to live. And don't use that so-dee-um. That stuff will kill you."

I asked him what he ate. "A lot of bear meat," he said.

"But Herb!" I exclaimed. "You can't shoot bears in the park."

"No," he said, grinning, "but you can if they come outside the park."

One day Herb showed me the mountain spring near the ruins of his former house in the Smokies. He told me he still gets barrels full of fresh water from it to drink.

"Those Yankee park rangers tell me it isn't safe to drink," he said, "but I tell them I've been drinking it for almost 100 years so I guess I'll drink it a little longer."

Herb told me that people want to buy his place. I thought, "I'll bet they do." He continued, "Well, if I sell it, I'll have money in the bank. I won't see it, I won't feel it. It will just be down there somewhere. The way it is now, I'm standing on it. I'd rather keep my money under my feet and in these hills and trees. I ain't selling."

More power to you, Herb.

Nowadays he does spend some time watching TV, and he had some comments about that. "Those young women on TV don't wear enough clothes to stuff a shotgun barrel with. You watch that too long you start thinking bad thoughts. I have to go look at my mountain and the trees and think good and peaceful thoughts."

Herb told me that when he was younger, he was a rural mail carrier, on horseback.

"Back in those days," he said, "Gatlinburg had two stores and one hotel. I rode my horse all over these hills delivering mail, even in snow up to the horse's belly. And I got paid $1 a day. I always saved some of it. Stuck some of it in my sock. That's where that saying comes from, 'Sock some of it away.' And now at almost 100 I'm living off that money I saved from a dollar a day. I don't get nothing from the government."

"Surely you get Social Security," I said.

"Oh well, yes, but that is just getting out what I put in." He paused for a moment, his eyes twinkled, and he added, "It may be that I've gotten out more than I ever put in, but then, that's my good luck for living so long I guess."

I have gone to the Smokies every year for a long, long time to hike in those beautiful mountains. I still do that, but now my best reason for going is to have another visit with Herb Clabo, the wise man from the mountains.


Charles Lamb is semi-retired and works as assistant to the minister at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown.

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