Last week I received a letter from a long, long-time-ago next-door neighbor friend, Cyndee. Think a 50- to 60-year back kind of neighbor. The type you saw just about every day after school. Cyndee was 16 when I was 12. She was the kind of the girl-next-door that you looked up to as a very strong and decent role model. I knew Cyndee my entire youth, from day one of life until I moved away from home and married…
Cyndee wrote last week to inform me my godmother, her mom Lucille Smith, had passed away at the very accomplished age of 95.
There’s godmothers and then there’s godmothers in fact and deed. “Mrs. Smith,” as I always knew her, was the type of godmother of vintage family TV shows. The godmother reflective of past, close-knit faith communities and strong ethnic families. The godmother who was, truly, my “second” mom — and for a while at first, was my “first” mom.
Lucille Smith had passed away at 95 after a purpose-filled, joyful, disciplined life, filled with near-constant giving to those around her and those far away.
My first recallable memories of Mrs. Smith were formed three or four years after my long association began with her – more on that later.
This all goes back to the ’50s and ’60s and Mrs. Smith was the person with the United Way stickers on her window. Mrs. Smith was the person with the photos of the kids she’d “adopted” and cared for in some far-flung locale. Mrs. Smith was in the PTA, worked most of the school fundraisers, kept her home immaculate, was gracious and kind most always, and stern and direct when you had it coming. Mrs. Smith was principled in word and deed and one knew that, while she was your best adult friend, you also never crossed Mrs. Smith…
Mr. and Mrs. Smith were solidly and respectably middle-class. Back in ’64, Mrs. Smith got a metal-flake green Ford Mustang – the first year made – and kept that as-incredible-car-as-we’d-ever-seen as immaculate as her house. Back then, California was battling an immense littering problem on public roads, and Mrs. Smith kept a “zero litter” bag hanging nicely from her cigarette lighter, which stuck proudly from the center of the dash. Throw paper out the window and Mrs. Smith would teach you a lesson long remembered…
This was the mid-’60s when many, if not most, Californian (white) women were still at-home moms in suburban settings. Mrs. Smith, however, was the executive administrator to a big-wig at RCA TV manufacturing – and perhaps because of it, the Smith family was the first family I knew to boast a brand-new RCA color TV. Those of us who remember RCAs might also remember that people looked slightly green or orange. Today we’re better on that account… mostly.
Mrs. Smith was a professional businesswoman before there were many of them and she exuded confidence and poise and determination. So much so, that the example stuck, encouraging me deep in my soul to push myself upward through education and business.
When I was 12 and was a nerd interested in amateur radio, Mrs. Smith drove me over and again to Burbank for evening lessons at the Lockheed Employees Amateur Radio club. She drove us neighborhood kids to Scout activities. Took us about everywhere – to parks, movies, you name it. And Mrs. Smith got a “Dough-Boy” pool one summer and she hosted my sisters and me and half the neighborhood kids for summers on end, back when summers seemed endless and time never progressed.
Mrs. Smith was about the most kind, generous, principled and put-together person I knew growing up.
But Mrs. Smith also knew me before I knew her, and hence the very special “godmother in-deed” part of this story. My mom, Catherine Horton, had suffered rheumatic fever as a child. She developed heart problems that would be lifelong. I was the fourth of four kids, and by then I suppose the child-bearing had taken its toll. Mom gave birth to me at the UCLA medical center. She’d been there for some time before my birth – and she stayed in the hospital for nearly two months after I was born. She stayed, I went home, and the home I went to was Lucille Smith’s. This is the epitome of neighborly love.
Mrs. Smith, along with my oldest sisters, cared for me for the many weeks my mom was recuperating. Think; cradled up in caressing arms, singing to, blankies placed just so – and all the diapers, too. Mrs. Smith loved me and cared for me with her actions and deeds – over two decades.
Mrs. Smith and I began writing each other again about a year ago after an extended quiet spell. We each got two letters off back and forth before Cyndee’s letter came. I thank God I had the chance to write Mrs. Smith. She told me she was going to move in with Cyndee as she was getting “old.” I told her how she impacted my life and how much appreciation I had for all she did for me. She didn’t tell me she was dying of cancer and that’s why she was moving. She wouldn’t bother someone with that kind of thing.
Mrs. Smith could also be quite stoic, on top of all the rest.
Lately, I’ve been studying a course on personal and organizational resiliency. Appreciation for all the good things around you, large and small, turns out to be perhaps the greatest key to a resilient, robust, meaningful life.
Other than my own mom, sisters and wife – no one impacted me like my loving and caring godmother, Mrs. Lucille Smith. She helped make my life resilient and meaningful. She, and people like her, are the people who change lives for the best. Mrs. Smith is an incredible example for all.
May this well-deserving woman be received by God with very open arms.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006.