By Bruce A. Smith
In a couple of days I will be heading to New York to spend the holidays with family. Mom is on Long Island, Sis and her kids are up in Boston, and my ex and her kids are spread throughout the greater NY-NJ area. Cousins and old friends stretch from mid-town Manhattan all the way out to the Hamptons. It’s a big crew and I’ll be there for a few weeks.
As I prepare to go I began researching old Christmas stories to post at the Mountain News, but all that I could find were ones that have already appeared in these pages last year. But I did find a story about my dad, his eulogy, and I thought I’d share it.
My father, Alan W. Smith, passed away about six years ago, just after Christmas in 2006. He was 90 years old and on our last day together he was still telling WW II stories at 11 pm at the kitchen table, eating Breyer’s peach ice cream with me. He did the talking and I did the listening. That was much of how our relationship existed in our adult life. But here is a bit more.
I guess family is on my mind in a lot of different ways this evening. So I bid you adieu for a bit – my Mountain News family – and I wish you all a Merry Christmas. I’ll see you again on these pages in the near future.
Eulogy for my Father
Alan W. Smith
January 23, 2007
My father died as he lived – no muss and no fuss; a simple, straight forward life with little drama at the end.
But, by simple I do not mean he was a simple man- far from it. Rather, he loved life in a simple way. He was a rare man, one who truly loved living – especially those moments of good company, family times, or swimming at Fire Island or Squam Lake. He understood nuance but rarely practiced it. What you saw was what you got; he was that kind of guy.
For those who don’t know the details of my father’s passing, let me say briefly that he wasn’t feeling well on Friday afternoon, January 19th. By the time our family friend Richard came over to go out to their previously scheduled dinner date, Dad was nauseous, weak, couldn’t feel his extremities, and was having chest pains. Instead of our favorite Italian – Umberto’s – they went to St. Francis Hospital. He received three stints to open blocked arteries, but by morning his heart gave out and he was gone.
All of us here, I am sure, know full well how generous and dependable my father was. And I suppose that all of us have been touched personally by those wonderful aspects of my father. I certainly was.
When I was a kid, Dad was one of the regular drivers to Camp Wauwepex, taking me and a car full of Boy Scouts out on our monthly camping trips. At home, he was always ready to throw the ball around, and he surprised everyone at his 90th birthday last summer when BJ asked him what his greatest experiences were in those years. He replied, “Being a Little League coach.” It shocked us because he was supposed to say being married to my mom, but he didn’t. That was Dad. And to boot, as he would say, he wore his Babe Ruth League coach’s hat nearly everyday for 40 years. It’s probably the one piece of clothing he never lost or misplaced. I even saw him wearing it in two pictures last night at the viewing.
I benefited particularly from his generosity, particularly during my efforts to develop a performing career. My move to Nashville was directly funded by Dad; he pumped well over ten grand into that effort. And that gift was particularly sweeter knowing how he had changed to become closer to me. When I was a kid he often tried to dissuade me from the creative life, admonishing me to get a real job and not be just another unemployed actor in New York City. And I had changed too, no longer hoping he would become the father I wanted, but rather accepting him as he was. So, I want to celebrate our mutual growth and the good times that came out of that.
Now that he is gone, it is obvious to me that he was always around. Last night, my sister and I talked about how these past few days are the first time my dad hasn’t been around since 1960 when he went on a three-day business trip to Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.
Yet, he wasn’t a homebody, at least in the strict sense. He traveled with Mom to Japan, Alaska and all through Europe – from the Arctic Circle to Rome. But he enjoyed home best, especially summer evenings on the porch eating peach ice cream, or going for a swim at the town pool.
My sister also remarked, as have others, how much my father would have enjoyed the gatherings of the last few days – the conversations, the good food, the sweet reunions with old friends and family.
But, he is gone. And yet, his leaving has taught me one more powerful truth. He’s gifted me one last time, from beyond the grave, if you will.
I know now, more clearly and with greater conviction that we are all on a journey. I’m on mine, you are on yours, and Dad has started a new one. His journey here in human form is over, and although it is shocking to realize he isn’t here, his leaving has a blessed lesson.
When I looked at his body at the viewing yesterday, it was so very clear to me that his spirit was gone- that which make him who he was and have his body life. And that experience tells me profoundly that life is bigger than just what we see around us – what we feel and experience in this human life – the job, the kids, paying the mortgage, walking on the beach, our friends and loved ones. There is so much more than that; our spirits are so powerful and beautiful that when they leave the body it is so obvious they have left to go to another realm, one that is equal to that majestic beauty and power. So in his simple, quiet way, my Dad has taught me, just by leaving, one more important truth.
Bruce A. Smith
January 23, 2007