Friday, December 10, 2010

Growing Up Smith

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:
“Are you...Christina?”
“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. 


  1. Oh your post brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes...what lovely parents you have-such memories. We should all be so lucky.

  2. Oh Christina..this was beautiful..truly beautiful. I love the photo...looks very vintage..and i know vintage I'm afraid to say!
    This is the gold you should mine
    this is where the power is
    Fort Pit
    write it

  3. Suz, and Kathew, thank you both for your kind words...I haven't written about my dad because those emotions are hard to distill. But thanks again :-)

  4. you did an excellent job of distilling
    What a relationship you have with him
    I love the picture of your parents

  5. Oh, Thank you, Suz. I love that picture too. I feel like I may have idealized my childhood a bit in this post, but those are the things that stand out for me...all the happinesses.

  6. oh get told us the emotional truth
    I have such truths
    I was happy that you had a father like that so creative and a mom who loved you alllllllll77777! In that photo os your parents I see young love....they had it
    a wonderful thing to have had
    you have it...and a wonderful thing to have
    they showed the way didn't they

  7. "The emotional truth"...I love it! Yes, it's all true. Seven kids...can you believe it?? They certainly did show the way...

  8. May love overflow your heart this Christmas
    You were planted in good soil

  9. Did I ever tell you my grandmother was a Schmidt?
    spooky huh

  10. What a great life! And I love the picture of Ralph and Mary Lou! I would love to see some of your wonderful Christmas cards! What fun! You do have lots of wonderful memories...I do too. That's all we can ask for.

  11. April, yes, it was a great life. And I'd love to share the old Christmas cards...I think everyone would get a kick out of them. Thanks so much for stopping by :-)

    And Suz, may you and your family have a wonderful Christmas, as well. Hmm, a "Schmidt," huh? Now it's all starting to make sense!!

  12. Oh, I love this vintage photo. I was stopping by because I wanted to wish you a happy new year and thank you for being a follower of my blog. It means a lot to me. Thank you. May your new year be filled with laughter, more joy than sorrow, peace, and wisdom. Blessings to you. Happy new year!

  13. My Chrissy I miss you so!
    Instead of reading my assigned "American Bombing of North Vietnam" book, I google search for your blog and am delighted to find it along with several new entries!
    Naturally,I must read them immediately...and as always, I hear your voice--your sarcasm, your laughter.
    I miss you. Let's talk soon.

  14. Oh, my goodness! Magsi? What a surprise! I have to say, your assigned reading sounds way more interesting than my ridiculous life, but I'll graciously accept the compliment :-)

    Are you in Alabama? What's new? Thanks for getting back in touch--tell me everything...