A grandson writes about his 90 year old grandparents, Bridge Building
By Keith Smith, October 2008
I spent the weekend in Southern Oregon with my kids visiting my aunt and uncle, cousins and nephews but mainly my Grandparents. My Father’s Father is 94, his Mother 90 and both have the body of someone 10 years younger and the mind of someone even younger still. Their healthy eating and clean living has provided amazingly uncomplicated health for both of them. This weekend my Grandmother reminded me that during her 12 years of schooling she missed a week with the flu in the 7th grade. And that’s it! She never missed another day beyond that. “I liked school” she says summing up an attendance record that would likely win a place in the Guinness Book of records. She also informed me that she’s never yet taken an antibiotic. Ever. It makes me wonder what these people are made of.
And while all of that is impressive, what really makes one wonder what these two people are made of is the magic of their relationship with each other. At one point during the weekend I asked my Grandfather what his proudest accomplishment was during his lifetime. The question made him look at the ground and ponder and then thoughtfully respond, “Well, I haven’t accomplished much in my life – but the best thing I ever did was to find this wonderful lady here. She has changed every part of my life.” Grandma blushes at hearing this and begins to rebut his response with a long list of amazing things that he has in fact accomplished during his life. I’ve long been amazed by their 74 year love affair so I continued with this line of questioning for most of the weekend, trying to get to the bottom of how in the world two people could be this devoted to each other and still be this madly in love after all this time.
After hearing story after story of blissful love between the two of them I finally replied, “It couldn’t all have been wonderful. Didn’t you have some difficult times with each other that you overcame?” They both looked at each other perplexed and kind of shrugged. Then Grandpa summed it all up very simply, “She always made it easy to love her.” He then went on to explain how from age 16 on Grandma had continually sacrificed her own wants and needs for him. Always putting her desires aside in order to stand behind and support him and their family. He simply can’t understand how you couldn’t always love someone who does that for you, and I guess neither could I. Of course this was not a one-way street. Upon hearing this response my Grandmother quickly responded that he was the one who deserved all the credit. After all it was Grandpa who had toiled all these years, earned all the money and never stopped supporting his family. “And he was never satisfied” she said, “he always wanted to make things better for me, no matter what”. Listening to them banter back and forth I pictured each building a bridge from their shore to the opposite shore. Each bridge being able to support the weight of the entire relationship and each built without any regard to whether the other was building their bridge or not. Neither was waiting to see if the other was as far along in their bridge, but instead just set out in faith and confidence to build a relationship supporting bridge of their own, sacrificing their own personal desires for the good of the person they loved. This kind of selflessness has created redundancy and security in their relationship, complete with two fully sustainable bridges. Their argument continued for some time, each claiming that the other was the reason for making their relationship last – completely disbelieving that they themselves could be responsible for the 72 years of wedded bliss they have each been enjoying. With arguments like this you start to get a sense of why their romance continues untarnished and stronger than ever.
And while their relationship seems like magic to the outside observer each will be quick to tell anyone within earshot that it is their foundation on Godly principles that has made this thing endure. Each has modeled Christ-like, unconditional love to the other. That is what started their relationship and is what still feeds it today. She was all of 16 and he was 20 when they met. He was an unproven but scrappy young man who had just returned from nine months mining gold on the Salmon River – trying anything he could to make a buck during the depression. Turns out that during his nine month stint he actually made five. That’s right, his share of the spoils was $5, which is what he had in his pocket when he returned to Kalispell, Montana – driven by something that he couldn’t quite understand but he knew he needed to “get back”, as he puts it. Three days later, on Wednesday, November 22nd, 1933 they met at church, hit it off and then he walked her home after the service. He lived several blocks closer to the church than she did so she expected only half a walk home, but he didn’t stop there and instead walked her all the way home. What’s great is hearing them tell the story, “It was at church” he says. Then she pipes in, “November 22nd“, clearly a day that is important to her. He smiles a bit and continues, “it was Wednesday”, as if it were last week. The way they go back and forth recounting this story leaves you with a distinct feeling that they did and still do understand the importance of those first meetings. Their second date was the Friday two days later – again at church. Grandma again got a walk home and this time a bit of affection. This part of the story makes Grandma blush and insist that the conversation take a different turn. Grandpa simply stares off and cracks a knowing smile. That kiss sealed the deal and they’ve been sharing true love ever since. Grandma de-prioritized all else in her life and Grandpa forever had the biggest cheerleader and supporter of his life. Makes it hard to have anything but success in life when you have a team-mate like that.
Epitaph -Eulogy for Ruby Smith
Given by Kenneth Smith, February 9, 2008 – Calvary Church, Jacksonville, Oregon
In the days since my grandmother died, I’ve been meditating on a poem by C. S. Lewis, written after the death of his wife, and now carved on her gravestone in Oxford, England. C. S. Lewis writes,
Here the whole world (stars, water, air
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast-off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hope that she
Re-born from holy poverty,
In Lenten lands, hereafter may,
Resume them on her easter day.
Early in the morning of February 4th, Ruby Helen Lucille Smith left behind, like cast-off clothes, the mortal body she had carried with grace since 1917. The husband with whom she had shared a bed and a life for 72 years was with her, and held her hand, and felt the Holy Spirit fill the room even as her own spirit departed. Several hours later, as our family gathered around her deathbed to say one last good-bye, my mind was flooded with the memories of how that mortal body had served her over those years, and how she had used that body to serve others. So many meals: so many wounds bandaged, tears dried, cookies baked, diapers changed, grandchildren hugged, emails sent and demanded. How one quiet woman could represent so much activity and goodness is one of the mysteries of love.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the life, mourn the death, and rejoice in the homecoming of an extraordinary woman. Whether we knew her as friend, aunt, grandmother, mother or loving wife, I can think of no better way to honor her than to take a few moments to look through her eyes, to see the whole world as it was reflected in the single mind of Ruby Smith.
Deep and lasting friendships formed a constant background to my grandmother’s world. Ruby Smith did not establish temporary relationships, or make friends out of convenience. The friends she made when she worked at Harry and David’s in the 1940’s, or when she attended Ashland Christian Center in the 1950’s, or when she worked at the orthopedic clinic in the 60’s and 70’s, remained her friends for life. The number of these friendships necessarily diminished over the years, as she and Elmer remained healthy and vigorous, while more and more of their friends passed on. But as anyone who was a recipient of her emails can testify, her days, and Elmer’s, were passed in frequent communication with old friends, visiting those who had grown sick, and helping those no longer able to fend for themselves. I do not believe that any friend of Ruby’s could ever have complained of neglect or inattention; and a great many people in Ruby’s world had cause to be thankful for her consistent hospitality and quiet kindness.
My grandmother’s world revolved around her family. When my grandfather rushed her to the hospital on a warm July day in 1940, the two of them had little idea what was in store. The labor drugs knocked her out, and when she awoke, the nurse asked, “Did you know that you had twins?” Still groggy, Ruby responded, “I didn’t know I had any.”
Ruby assumed her new role as the mother of twin boys with gusto. For the next 18 years, she cooked, cleaned, mended, kissed, coddled, scolded, and chased her boys into adulthood. In 1957, my famously frugal grandparents splurged on a brand-new ’57 Chevy for their two sons, and this was typical: they rarely bought anything for themselves, but nothing was too good for their boys.
When Larry and Lloyd left home, married and had families of their own, Ruby found her world expanding once again. As the decades passed, through marriages, births, adoptions and virtual adoptions, she found herself the matriarch of a substantial and growing tribe. And again, although they rarely bought anything for themselves, they helped their grandchildren in any way that they could. Numerous house down payments, new cars, new computers, or college tuition payments had their origin in the bank account of a retired couple who never made more than $8 / hour.
As the years passed, keeping the scattered and sundry members of her family connected became a substantial challenge. But many decades ago, she had instituted a tradition of regular letters to all and sundry, a tradition which she maintained until her 91st birthday. They started as hand-written letters, copied at the local post office, and sent out manually. About 15 years ago, we bought her an electric typewriter; her letters were perhaps longer after that, and of course typewritten, but otherwise unchanged.
It was probably 10 years ago that we pitched in and bought her first computer. She was horrified at the thought, and even called Larry in a panic: “They’ve bought me a computer, and they’re bringing it over, and I need you to make them stop!” Nevertheless, we set it up for her, and walked her through turning it on. We showed her how to point and click with a mouse, showed her how to use a word processor, and how to access the Internet with a browser. She remained unimpressed.
Then we showed her email.
We had no idea we were about to create a monster. We should have known by the way her breath quickened when she saw us adding email addresses to the “To:” line. She watched us change fonts, and then email backgrounds, her eyes narrowing. She sat down. We showed her how easy it was to reply to her emails, and how easily she could reply to ours. The look on her face grew sharp, and hungry. She wanted this.
The monster was born.
Ten years, three computers, two printers, and many thousands of emails later, we learned that the monster must be fed. If Grandma didn’t get twenty or thirty emails a day, she felt neglected. She forwarded emails like a fiend. She kept track of who had sent her emails recently and who hadn’t. Woe betide the grandson who neglected to email his grandmother, for his neglect should be broadcast to the entire family, and then some.
As to the letters: they were just the daily life of a woman who had seen 90 summers in her lifetime, and 90 winters; who had watched three generations grow up in her house; who had cooked more meals than I know how to count and fed more hungry descendants than I care to; who watched the husband she loved dearly for 75 years grow old alongside her. It was just life; but it was life.
Ruby’s world held nothing of greater worth than a skinny red-haired refugee from the Depression, fresh off the Salmon River, with an empty wallet and few prospects for filling it. Since their first walk home, and their first kiss under a Montana sky, Ruby had eyes for little else in this world. Most of you know that two weeks after she graduated from high school, Ruby and Elmer eloped – and that when they returned to Kalispell, they kept their marriage a secret for six months. It is the stuff of family legend that Ruby’s father began to suspect something amiss only when Elmer began coming down from Ruby’s bedroom for breakfast.
Ruby and her husband were inseparable. One story of many will suffice. Until this week, I believe that the last time my grandparents spent a night apart was twelve years ago, in 1996. I was moving up to Oregon from Southern California, and it seemed entirely natural to me to ask my blind 83-year old grandfather to come down and help me pack. We left Los Angeles late, after many delays, and my grandfather kept me company as I drove the moving van through the night. We arrived in Phoenix early the next morning, and were both exhausted as we drove up to their house, parked and climbed out. As the eldest grandchild, I had grown used to my grandmother rushing out of the house to hug me whenever I came to visit, so I wasn’t surprised to see the door fly open and Ruby run down the driveway. But this time she ran right past me and practically leaped into her husband’s waiting arms. Only after some minutes of fussing over him did she manage a quick hug for me; and then immediately returned to Elmer’s arm, hardly to be shook off. An eldest grandchild was a poor substitute for the husband she had missed so badly.
These stories are typical of their relationship: they loved each other passionately, unreasonably, completely. The Great Depression, wars and rumors of wars, social revolutions and real ones, passed by in the outside world, leaving their love untouched. Children were born, then grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; even age itself began to take its toll, but the strength of their love was renewed like the eagle’s.
For the Christian, death will always have two faces. It is true – it is blessedly true – that we rejoice, because Ruby is now with her Lord; and so long as the Lord tarries, the beatific vision which Ruby is now experiencing can be achieved in no other way than by walking the lonely valley of death. But make no mistake: death is an enemy, and we fool ourselves if we think otherwise, or belittle its importance. If death is not important, neither is birth. Death rips us apart from the world which God made good, and in which God placed us.
And Ruby’s death was in this respect no exception. My grandmother did not want to die. “I never expected this,” I heard her say repeatedly during her final weeks. “This is so sudden.” Until three weeks ago, she had not seen a doctor for six years, and had never so much as taken an antibiotic. Her perpetual good health made the sudden weakness that took her all the more alarming. She worried about her dumpy, her house, the sudden flood of guests. Ruby’s world was full of friends, family, and a husband whom she loved dearly, and it was not a world that she wished to leave behind.
Even so, even as her weakness grew and her own death grew more imminent, my grandmother revealed a grace that we had always suspected, and a sense of humor that we had not. She kept us laughing through our tears as she retold old stories, and a few new ones. She harangued her eldest great-grandchild into getting his hair cut. She refused to put to rest the rumor that she had actually proposed to Elmer. She revealed the existence of a stash of coffee she had long kept secret from my grandfather.
When her husband was being stubborn about something, she turned to him, wagged her finger, and said, “In a few days, you’ll be the boss, but for right now, it’s still me!”
At one point, as her illness dragged on, and her family refused to budge from her bedside, she said, “I can just imagine the headline on my obituary: ‘FINALLY’.”
My grandmother’s death came three weeks after her diagnosis, and it was a blessing; but after 91 years, it was too soon. She died as she lived: much loved, surrounded by family, and fussing just a little.
Her New World
The whole world, as reflected in the single mind of Ruby Helen Lucille Smith, was as clear as daybreak, as simple as a stream, profound as the stars. If you had looked through her eyes, you would have seen a world as broad as a lifetime of friendship, as narrow and focused as her family, and as plain as the ten acres of earth on which she and her husband built a lifetime together. This is the world that Ruby Smith has cast off; but she cast it off in hope, with the faith that one day, when the world is made new, she will clothe herself with it anew: when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality.
In that reborn world, we know that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. But that world is not this world, and in this world, our tears are appropriate. So let us grieve for our loss; but Lord, do not let us grieve as those who have no hope. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first; and then, we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
Keith’s tribute: Read at his grandmother’s memorial
I’LL BE WAITING February 9, 2009
A flowing dress. Hair combed just right. Lipstick applied quickly but perfectly. High heel shoes running through the gravel. And there she waits, at the end of the drive, expectantly for her Dear. Why wait in the house, I suppose the thinking goes, when one can be a few feet closer, a few moments sooner to seeing the one she loves. Her husband. Her other half. Since the age of 16 she has been in one of two states; either by his side, or waiting to be by his side. And so was the scene every day of my Grandfather’s working life. Grandma always there, always helping, always waiting.
It has been more than three decades since this scene has been repeated, but oh what glorious decades they were. During which there was very little need for waiting because she rarely left his side. Doting. Caring. Loving. Always there.
As she lay in her bed, breathing the final breaths that God gave her on this earth she grasped his hand and whispered in his ear, “I’ll be waiting for you…by the gates.”
My Grandfather once told me that the best thing he ever did on this earth was to fall in love with my Grandmother. She was his helpmate, his lover and his perfect companion in every way. Yet now Grandpa is the one waiting. Waiting to once again be reunited with his other half. He told me that losing Grandma would rip him in half. And it did. But along with tragedy something miraculous took place. The moment she slipped her earthly bonds and went on to meet the Lord my Grandfather was washed over by the Holy Spirit and this half-a-man again became whole. His eternal Savior has replaced his 75- year helpmate.
Nothing can fill the void this amazing woman left behind. She simultaneously played the role of wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother as well as many others – and did so effortlessly and nearly perfectly. But know that you are witnessing a miracle in front of your very eyes. A man that was briefly ripped in two has been made whole, and that is a truly fitting legacy left behind by a truly amazing woman.
Dad’s final remarks read by grandson Kenneth:
Even though this has been by far the most heart-crushing experience I have ever had to go through, if it will help my loved ones to remember their promises that they will meet my darling and me in heaven, it will be worth any temporary pain that I have to endure. If my blessed Lord Jesus will get any glory from it all, I can only say, “Thank you Jesus.” And though the best half of me has been taken away, I know that my Redeemer lives and I will see my sweetheart again. She promised me that she would meet me at the gate and we would worship Him together.
RUBY SMITH COMMITTAL
Hillcrest Memorial – Medford, OR
February 9th, 2008 11am
Welcome / Prayer – Pastor Brian
1 Timothy 4:4-6 Life is Like an Airport – Pastor Brian (No John 14)
1 Thessalonians 4 – Pastor Bob
Closing Prayer – Pastor Bob
RUBY SMITH MEMORIAL
Calvary Church – Jacksonville, OR
February 9th, 2008 2pm
Video (3 minutes)
Welcome / Prayer – Pastor Bob
Eulogy – Ken Smith
Slide Show – Larry & Lloyd
Song #1 – Dennis
“Bridge Building” – Keith Smith
Thoughts on Isaiah 61 – Pastor Brian
Song #2 – Dennis
Message – Pastor Bob
Song #3 “Amazing Grace” – Dennis
Closing Prayer – Pastor Brian
Family meets at Conger-Morris at 10:00
Pastor Bob & Brian meet at Hillcrest at 11:00
Judy’s Flowers – will move arrangements to CC at 11:30 from Hillcrest
Food Procurement – need in CC on Friday (Barbara Clausen)
Sound Check w/ Dennis & Travis on Saturday
MOTHER’S COMPUTER GOES DARK. A SUMMARY OF HER MEMORIAL SERVICE, CALAVARY CHURCH – JACKSONVILLE, OREGON
FEBRUARY 9, 2008
This is the last day after a month that I will be at Dad’s house and at Mother’s computer at firstname.lastname@example.org . Larry will check it from time to time when he stops by but there will not be anybody here to respond. I will be back at Lsmithtwin@comcast.net tonight if you want to respond.
Before I leave I wanted to send out Keith’s and Kenneth’s remarks from Mother’s memorial service yesterday to all of Mother’s address book. Kenneth then read a short paragraph by Dad that I have included. Dad handwrote this under this under his magnifier Saturday morning. In this e-mail are Keith’s and Dad’ remarks. I will follow with Kenneth’s.
It was an emotional day yesterday seeing our beloved mother in a casket and following the coach to Hillcrest Cemetery where she was placed to rest in the mos. We had so much support from our family and friends that is was almost over whelming. So many pitched in to make it an easier day for us. Mother would be pleased. One of the last things she mentioned to me that with all the people coming by and calling and e-mailing, “Will there be a lot of people at the church?” There were 150 people at Calvary Church…followed by a dinner…she should have been pleased. We had two wonderful pastors, Pastor Brian Steller and Pastor Bob Gass that came by to visit Mom during the three weeks and helped put on a wonderful service. Our pastors, Pastor Kent and Pam Doehne drove all the way down from Longview to be with us at the service. It was so appreciated the people that put their lives on hold to be with us.
This e-mail will be going to people that were at the service yesterday so we want to thank you for coming, some from long distances.
As we sat in the chairs at the cemetery for the committal facing Mother’s casket, Dad said, “It cannot be any better than this, I am with my two boys and I am with my sweetheart”.
Thanks for all support, cards, letters and flowers over the past four weeks.
Lloyd and Helen Smith Larry and Linda Smith
I can’t begin to tell you how honored I was to be somewhat a part of your mother’s last days. I have shared her story many times since I wrote the article for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. I believe God honored your parents before taking her home to eternity – what a beautiful story. What beautiful people. I will never forget the wonderful visit I had with them on the telephone. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever experienced. In my ministry, I encounter many with marital problems – and I now have one more example to share as I bring people hope in Jesus. Your mom and dad truly know the keys to marriage – keeping Jesus at the center, and making sacrifice for each other.
Many blessings and thanks – enjoy the program! Please pass word to your family that they can request a copy of my latest book from the Morris Cerullo program. I believe they will be blessed by it and I praise God for the wondrous doors He’s opened for it to go to the nations to bring hope and healing in Jesus.
PS My husband travels from time to time to Longview. I pray one day I can join him and meet you in person.