Imagine a childhood so rich it makes your memory feel full. A childhood so full of music, laughter, and art that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to replicate it with your own children some day.
That was my childhood. And it’s because I was raised by Ralph and Mary Lou.
My father was an artist. I say “was” because he’s no longer able to create. But when he was still healthy he’d create elaborate signs for every birthday, baptism, and communion party, not just for his seven children but for all of our family and friends, as well.
Our Christmas cards were Broadway productions. Ralph and Mary Lou would build a set and we kids would be dressed up as sugarplum fairies or, in my case, Rudolph.
Yeah, we had fun.
My dad was a genius. He designed the stained glass windows for our church. His faith combined with his genius equalled art like few people in our parish had ever seen.
That was my dad.
My mom is a pianist and used to sing in the opera. But she loved show tunes and Frank Sinatra, too. So every Saturday as kids, my siblings and I would find ourselves dusting window ledges or wiping the bathroom toilet while humming Puccini or perhaps something from Camelot.
It was a great way to grow up. The Smith way.
That’s why it's a strain on my heart to see my father the way he is now: thinner, hunched over, his blue eyes not nearly as bright. The one thing that gave him his genius has been erased like a wrong answer.
Alzheimer’s can do that to a person. It’s been eight years now since my father was diagnosed. He still knows my name but always states it as a question, searching my eyes and the contours of my face to make sure he’s got it right:
“And your last name is Smith.”
That last line he speaks declaratively, like it's something he knows for sure.
“Yep. My last name is Smith.”
“Your name is Christina Smith,” he repeats.
We say the next part together, every time.
“Christina Smith. That’s it. Fort Pitt!”
And then we laugh hysterically, my Dad’s old laugh, the real one. I have no idea what “Fort Pitt” is, but I don’t care. The rhyming sounds help him remember me.
Thank God he still remembers me.