While it might seem strange to some of you that we could stand up here and deliver a eulogy, the fact is Mom left pretty specific instructions about what she wanted for this service. The Smith sister eulogy was on her list along with instructions for what not to say, like “she woke up in the arms of Jesus.”
The other item Mom wanted to make sure was included in her memorial is the list of names on the back cover of your program. These are people who have died unexpectedly – or “before their time” -- since the time of Mom’s diagnosis 15 months ago. Mom was keenly aware that she was not alone in having her life cut too short. She kept that list of names and asked us to share it with you today.
Mom also left some other instructions – some of which just made us laugh. For example, “Please don’t forget to get the Snipes family baby bed out of your dad’s attic – even if it’s just to use it as a flower bed.”
You see, the fact that we have not gotten married and produced offspring has been a running joke around our house ever since we asked Mom about a gal several years younger than us. “Mom – what ever happened to Susie Mae? Is she married?”
“No,” Mom sighed. “No. She never did marry.”
“Mom – you realize she’s younger than us, right? What do you think people say about us? Those Smith girls – (sigh) – they never did marry.”
Mom didn’t miss a beat. “I meant to say she had not married YET! That is what I meant to say!”
And it’s pretty ironic we haven’t married, since Mom’s been training us about how to behave around our future mother-in-law since we were about 12.
For example – her highest compliment when we made something tasty: “This is delicious! You could serve this to your mother-in-law!”
Or when I left a ring of lipstick on her bathroom towels or a glob of hair in the shower: “Lynsley, would you do that at your mother-in-law’s house?”
It’s a wonder this elusive mother-in-law hasn’t appeared yet, but I guess we’ve just scared her off by talking about her so much!
Mom trained us well in so many ways. She showed us how to write and send timely thank you notes. She taught us to save; every time our Mimi gave us a birthday or Christmas check, we went to the bank to deposit it in our savings accounts. And though we might not always be the neatest housekeepers, we ALWAYS clean up for company – though we do not clean out under our beds like she used to make us do when she threw a big party. As a matter of fact, cleaning our room was one of the first things we did the afternoon mom died, knowing we’d be getting lots of visitors!
When we grew up out in the country, our slumber parties were much-anticipated by our friends, as Mom would encourage us to invite all of the girls in our class. She’d put our towels in the dryer during our night swims so they’d be warm when we got out of the pool. She introduced us to the joy of sweet and salty flavors combined, through popcorn and M&Ms. We realized this year how much Mom’s hospitality and generous spirit meant to our friends, when someone posted on Facebook how Mom always made her feel just like another daughter by making sure she was included in everything.
We’ve felt fortunate during Mom’s illness to enjoy what we call the blurry line between friends and family. That sentiment was the punchline of an old story Mom used to tell about helping Aunt Sandy debone pounds of chicken for some pilau supper she was coordinating back in the 80s. After hours in the church kitchen, Sandy thanked Mom and one other friend for coming to the rescue to complete that unpleasant chore.
“It sure is nice to have friends,” Sandy said.
“Sandy,” Mom replied, “It looks to me like you’ve got one friend – and one relative.”
Our friends here in Quincy do feel more like relatives. Whenever we came back to visit, Mom loved to send us out into the neighborhood to make our rounds. It gave her joy to see the relationships we maintained because that’s how she raised us. She also encouraged us to cultivate intergenerational friendships – we love texting with our friends’ parents and emailing with their grandmothers.
Many of you know that Mom was so overwhelmed by visitors during her illness that she put out orange cones to let folks know when she wasn’t up for company. We realize that was a pretty good problem to have. And although Quincy is just like that – we like to think Mom did a particularly great job of cultivating friendships – right up until the end. In fact, the hospice nurse told us mom was her favorite patient – she would schedule her visit last on the rounds so she could sit and visit with her for a while. In fact, her oncologist sent us a Facebook message yesterday to say Mom was “hilarious.” They didn’t give Mom that Miss Congeniality title in high school for nothing!
Mom was always a sender of Christmas cards and a planner of class reunions. In recent years, Facebook gave her a lot of joy and amusement. She particularly loved seeing pictures of everyone’s grandchildren, since – well – we’ve already covered that topic!
But one area in which we did delight our mother was in our choice of colleges. It was so important to Mom for us to go away to school that we began college tours when I was going into the 9th grade. In typical CSS fashion, she turned it into a history trip – we visited UVa, learning about Jefferson and Monticello, and so forth.
Mom loved coming to Emory and Duke for the fall parents’ weekend, though she was a bit disappointed when Leigh Ann decided Duke was her first choice for business school. “But I’ve already been there”, Mom said. “What about Harvard?!”
So, she channeled her love for new college adventures by helping many students at Munroe through the college search and selection process.
Mom always emphasized that school was only one place to learn. She encouraged her students to see textbooks as just one tool in their education, with lessons on what one might learn from a perusing a catalog or reading the newspaper. Mom loved learning and experiencing NEW things – every year when she returned from the annual Washington, D.C. trip – which she’d been leading since 1988 – she made a list of all of the new and different things the class had done that year.
I’m sure Mom’s students could tell lots of stories about her “creative” approach to learning – from writing children’s books in Spanish to watching Mexican soap operas. Somewhere there’s a list of more than 100 costumes you can make using a black sweatsuit. She was a pretty creative parent as well. Once, when she was absolutely exasperated with trying to find some sort of punishment that would resonate with us, she put us on restrictions from going to Walmart. That one hurt!
Mom was a firm believer that there was no better life skill to have than reading, so she pretty much let us read anything we wanted – buying us the National Enquirer and Star tabloids at the supermarket checkout line and letting us read juicy novels by Judith Krantz and Danielle Steele. She took us to the used book store for 25-cent paperbacks and got us a Leon County library card so we’d have access to all the pages we could possibly turn. To get us to read more quality literature, she paid us $2 per book to read and write a book report about any of the classics.
Of course, we have become lifelong readers, and we’ve also picked up many of Mom’s other habits. Thanks to her, we try to avoid wasting our calories on a dessert that’s not homemade. We also suss out the best seat at a table in a restaurant – facing out to see the room, never facing the wall. Mom would NEVER dine at a chain restaurant when traveling – teaching us at a very early age there was no sense traveling if you were just going to eat something you could have eaten at home. We’ve laughed for years that Mom would always rather go to a new restaurant than go back to somewhere she’d already been. But now…we’re pretty much the same way ourselves.
We also laugh about the fact that Mom would drive us crazy at times with her “helpful hints” – and we are both rather notorious now for offering up our suggestions and opinions to our friends – just like Mom – whether they’ve asked for them or not.
We can’t help it if we have good ideas!
We’ve also taken after Mom’s world-class napping abilities. We’re very grateful she taught us that life is better if you spend the occasional day at home in your PJs.
Mom was in many ways the opposite of a helicopter parent. She never made us feel as if we had to call home or check in every day while traveling. That’s because she was known to disappear at times herself. Sometimes we couldn’t find her, and we’d call Miss Betty to find out Mom had taken off for the beach with Mary Howard or Nancy.
Mom loved laughing with her friends – and with us – one of her favorite stories for us to tell was about the time I made my sister get naked in front of her colleagues at the spa in Boca Raton. Mom and I sat in the lobby of the cancer center two months ago and laughed till we cried when a lady’s wig fell off on the Price is Right. Mom loved the day Beth May, Kay Edwards and I watched You Tube and practiced pronouncing “Louboutin” for those crazy expensive shoes. When Mom’s cancer first came back, I started keeping a list of the funny things people say around here – great material for a future screenplay. The hardest thing about today is not having her here to laugh along with us.
We’ll close with a few things we think Mom would want you to remember:
When you travel, don’t take pictures of buildings. You can buy a professional postcard of any of that. Take pictures of people.
Tie a red bandana or something else distinctive on your suitcase so you know it’s yours – or to show that you’re part of the group. You can also use that bandanna as a headband, blindfold, sweat rag, Kleenex, washcloth, hand towel, or tourniquet
Always keep your passport up to date. Mom loved to tell a story about a friend who got a free hunting trip to South America because he was the only one with a current passport when someone else got sick.
And never stop learning. There are always new places to explore even in the area you’ve lived your whole life, new people to meet, and new challenges to be faced with strength and grace.
We are so grateful to have learned so much from our mama, and we will miss her. We know you will too!
But when you do, just listen, and you’ll hear her saying:
Tighten up, people! Tighten up!
Well, that’s a B or a C answer, now who’s gonna give me the A answer?
I need y’all to stay on task and on target!
That’s so easy it’s ridiculous.
You’re gonna lose some valuable points.
That’s where I’m gonna trip you up, separate the men from the boys, so to speak.
Fold your paper in half…okay, now fold it in half again.
Look up, look down, look all around.
On your mark, get set, go.