We do this thing down on Waterhole Branch, near Fairhope, Alabama, every Thanksgiving season called the Shoe Burning. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Used to make Carl cackle that laugh of his when I told him stories about it. The deal is, we gather out at the Branch, usually the first Saturday after feasting, everyone brings a bottle, a story, a guitar, if you’ve got one, and a pair of shoes. You pass the bottle around, tell your story, and then toss the shoes into the big bonfire blazing into the night out on the lawn. Applause, a song, or another story might erupt. We never know. Carl said it reminded him of “Alice’s Restaurant,” or Haight-Ashbury, or Woodstock, or “The Fan,” from his college days in Virginia. Carl had a lot of memories to cull from.

When he wasn’t wearing his boots under clean pressed jeans, he sported a pair of polished Cordovan loafers and no socks. It would take those and a collection of shoes rivaling Imelda Marcos to tell all the stories of all the lives Carl dipped his toes into, multiple lives lived hard, mostly well, with a quick smile brightening the moment and always a remembered name. Born in Chicago of and among the era of the Jersey Boys, Carl studied in Richmond, then followed his passion for music and theater down to Nashville, back to New York, and Philadelphia. He schemed early on and often with Tom Robbins. He managed various musical acts and he taught school for a number of years. Through it all, and most importantly, he was a writer. He wrote about a Nashville on the cusp. He captured New Orleans just before the “big blow-job”–as the locals refer to her–washed in and permanently disfigured everyone’s favorite destination of decadence. He wrote so lovingly and true of the Lowcountry you’d swear you’d spent at least one former incarnation there and could riff along in Gullah with the best of them. And he created the indomitable Sam Larkin who became friend to so many.

That was one of Carl’s more gracious aspects, connecting lives, and the people within them. He championed all of us, Archer Lee, Christopher, Cassandra, Pat, Tom, Suzanne, the Dennises, his hometown bookstore–whether that was Beaufort or Greenville–as well as every other bookstore he’d encountered over the years, from Niceville to Bowling Green to Pass Christian. And we all benefited from the nexus that was Carl T. Smith. He was a champion of all of us and we can only hope we made him feel the same.

Fare thee well, my friend, because it’s too hard to say goodbye. You were always missed the moment we hung up the phone or one of us backed out of the driveway. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. As a final hedge, I’ll borrow the benediction you liked to use to sign off your emails: “I wish for you what I wish for me.”

carl

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