I won’t apologize for tears, as I am sure they will be flowing for the foreseeable future. My Grandma cried easily and often commented that her “bladder was behind her eyes”. Today we remember a tremendous woman.
Edith Eileen was the beaming bride of Barney Smith for over 75 years. Their love story is my favorite, and always will be. Grandpa said he knew the moment he first saw her, standing in the doorway of her childhood home, that she was the one. It absolutely was love at first sight.
He got up the nerve to go talk to her as a neighbor girl kindly made the introduction. He spoke with Grandma that day and she was the one who remembered that he had once helped her with a painting project at school. I like to think she was just as smitten as he was.
They couldn’t have been much more than 14 or 15 years old at the time and Grandpa Bill, Edith’s proud Papa, made it clear that she would not be allowed to go out with Barney until she was 16. Grandpa counted down the days and showed up once again at that same doorway on April 24, 1941; her sweet sixteenth birthday. Barney Smith is a hopeless romantic and he had his heart set on Edith Eileen. Apparently Grandpa Bill wasn’t expecting the young suitor to be back that EXACT day and he sadly refused Grandpa’s request to take her to the show until a few days later. She quickly became “Barney’s Girl” and he fell hard for her.
Their romance grew and on the snowy afternoon of February 6, 1943 they said “I do” at the home of a local pastor, with Bob and Margarite Snyder as their witnesses. I used to love to hear Grandma tell me the story of that wonderful day. She explained that shoes were being rationed because of the war and her Dad gave her his ration voucher so she could go downtown to get a brand new pair for her special day. She wore a tailored navy skirt suite and loved to point out that her groom looked just like Jimmy Stewart from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Though the ceremony was small and simple, the partnership that was forged that day was mighty.
They built a beautiful life together. Edith was the proud mother to Mary Eileen, Dennis Glenn, David William, and Shirley Marie. My Grandmother was a gifted storyteller; a keeper of memories who was always quick to share stories about parenting her fantastic four.
Some of my favorite New Year’s Eve memories were sitting next to Grandma as she smiled, sang, and clapped while her daughters danced the Lichensteiners Polka around the living room to ring in the New Year. (Though to my brother and I it often looked like Aunt Mary was swinging Mom around the floor and it was amazing).
One of her favorite stories to retell was from a time that a very handsome young police officer had the audacity to pull her over for what she believed was an un-necessary traffic stop. “What kind of boy would pull over his own mother?” and she would laugh so hard as Denny would defend his position. Every time she told the story it some how became even more hilarious. She bragged about breaking up fights between her rowdy boys as she fancied herself to be quite the competent wrestler the way she told it.
Shirley Marie, my Mom, was the youngest and Grandma would always recount giving her a bath in the basement kitchen sink. She and Mom would bake cakes together and became famous for their buttercream collaboration. In recent years Mom helped to care for Grandma, taking her to doctor’s appointments and helping her navigate the world of insurance. Grandma was so proud, and grateful, that mom had a background in human resources and would brag that “nobody knows that stuff as good as your Mom”.
Both Mary and Shirley (Mom) look just like their mom and Grandma loved that she could see herself in each of them. I’m sure many of you may have noticed that all the women in this family have been blessed with a bit of our Grandmother’s beauty. Grandpa would say “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” – he too loves to see Grandma in each of us, and I know we all agree – we take the comparison as a high complement. Many of us wore hot pink lipstick today in her honor.
As you arrived today you may have noticed the flag at half-staff. Edith was a Gold Star Mother, having lost her son David in the Vietnam War. Though I never had the privilege of getting to meet my Uncle Dave, I grew up feeling as though I had always known him because my Grandmother made it her mission to speak his name often so that no one could dare forget her precious son. As a child we went with Grandma and Grandpa to visit the Wall in Washington D.C. I can still picture Grandma and Grandpa, hand in hand, weeping as they stared longingly into the black stone that bore their sons name. In that moment the stories I grew up hearing suddenly became so much more. Though I certainly could feel their heartache, what resonated were the love, pride, strength, moxie, and courage that had bound them so tightly. I knew then that they could teach a masters class on what it means to love one another through the good times and the bad.
Not only was she a loving and devoted mother, she was the greatest grandmother of all time. God was showing off when he decided to bless her with grandchildren. She was born to be a matriarch and lined her long hallway with rows of photos of all of her grandchildren. She loved flipping on the lights and walking guests through the hall so she could brag on each one of us as though it was her own walk of fame. This was where her treasure was; her family. I am still dumbfounded that out of all the grandmothers in the whole world, I had the good fortune to call her mine. I don’t deserve such extravagance, but I am deeply thankful. She was and forever will be one of my greatest blessings.
I called her Grandma and she called me Sugar. Every phone call started with me asking “Hey Lady whadda ya know?” and she’d say “Not too much, how bout you?” I loved that we had this sort of script that would launch us into whatever was going on in life at the moment.
My brother Andy and I spent most of our summers at Grandma and Grandpas house, being spoiled rotten, just the way we liked it. We loved spending hours by her side in the kitchen trying to glean whatever magic she was up to whether it was whipping up a recipe for one of our favorites like cherry delight, snapping green beans from the garden while we watched Golden Girls, or watching in amazement as she would pull molten peanut brittle with her bare hands. She once made a batch at my house to teach my friends her craft. I was assisting and apparently not moving fast enough BECAUSE IT WAS MOLTEN SUGAR THAT WAS A MILLION DEGREES. She swatted my hands and pushed me out of her way. “Don’t be a panty waste just PULL PULL PULL!”. It was hysterical. My Grandma called me a panty waste in my own kitchen in front of my friends. (and don’t worry they didn’t soon let me forget it).
She had a nickname for Andy too. “Ornery Lil Shit Pot!” My word, she would laugh so hard at all of his antics. She spoke her mind and we loved all of her sassiness.
I once asked if she could bring me some of her homemade wine on her next visit to Ohio. As I helped her and Grandpa unpack the car for their stay I saw a box of ball canning jars in the trunk. They were labeled “strawberry jam” and “peach preserves”. Having forgotten about my request for some of the wine I asked her if the box of jam and preserves was supposed to come inside. “Sure does! That’s the booze I brought ya!” She explained that she poured the homemade hooch into the jars and labeled them as a decoy in case she got pulled over on the way to Ohio. She didn’t want to get busted for violating the open container law; clearly her brush with a young Officer Dennis Smith had stuck with her.
My then 80-year-old Grandma had pre-meditated how to not get busted for smuggling alcohol across a state line. My Grandma is cooler than yours.
My brother and I came for a visit this summer so that both of our kids could spend some quality time with Grandma and Grandpa. Watching her eyes sparkle as she giggled with the kids was pure bliss. Seeing them line up so she could fill their fists with M&Ms from her special candy machine, as they grinned from ear to ear filled our hearts to overflowing. Their inheritance will be the extravagant, undying love of their Grandma Honey. My brother and I got to see our own children experience the magic that marked our childhood – a dream come true.
Just as Grandma loved to spoil everyone; Grandpa loved to spoil her. She once mentioned she would like to have a sun porch. Without missing a beat, Grandpa set to removing all of the storm windows on the house so he could make his bride’s vision a reality. Grandma insisted that she was fine with just some screened in walls to keep the bugs at bay but Grandpa wasn’t hearing it. That wasn’t good enough for Barney’s girl. No sir, it had to be a huge room with working storm windows, walls, insulation, a porch swing, picnic table, siding, and even a tv so she could watch her shows while she would work her jig saw puzzles on the porch. She was his queen and he adored her.
I would be hard pressed to capture the lifetime of lessons I learned from her. She was deeply kind, and ever present. She knew how to effortlessly make room for people on every level, from owning more folding chairs and tables than anyone I know to accommodate family and friends for a meal, to sending baked goods not only to me, but half the people on my college campus because as she said “Grandma has enough love for everyone”. She was constantly on the lookout for ways to bring people encouragement, and joy, making it a habit to routinely drop off baked goods or bags of popcorn to bank tellers or friends from church. She loved to serve at Senior Saints, where they would send cards and crafts to church members who may not be able to make it to services. When she would tell me about her time there she would say she thought it was important to “do nice things for those sweet old people”. She was easily 10 years older than anyone the ministry was serving.
Grandma was our North Star and her light will continue to shine on each of us though she has finished her journey home. As I walked through the quiet house yesterday I saw her garden gloves at the ready on the back porch. In my heart those worn lavender gloves bring memories of a woman who taught me the depths of true beauty. As a part of your legacy sweet Grandma, we promise that we will make it our practice to see the beauty around us, to nurture joy, and to weed out loneliness by being a light to everyone we meet because that is what you modeled with such grace and ease. You tended your garden masterfully and the faces here reflect your good work. Thank you for loving us all more than we ever deserved. We love you so, and we can’t wait to see you again some day, perched at the end of your long table, eyes bright, your smile wide as you welcome us home. Save me a seat and I’ll bring the cherry delight.