“In the shade, got it made… In the sun, love to run…” were the words my Grandpa Smith chanted to me for motivation as I trained for the 1 mile race at the Maine Lobster Festival as a little girl. My grandpa was all about teaching me tricks like how to pump my legs to swing as high as I could from the tree swing in his front yard or how to tell time with the hands of the cuckoo clock at the top of the stairs. I was always interested in leafing through photo albums from my grandparents’ vacations and listening to him share the history behind each of the places they visited. He had a special passion for collecting coins and postcards and would send them to me as keepsakes. I loved getting letters in the mail with my name written in my grandma’s beautiful cursive handwriting. It made me feel important, as if I had secret pen pals out east. I continued writing letters to both sets of my grandparents growing up and throughout my college years. Little did I know that my Grandpa Smith had saved every postcard, letter, and greeting card from all of his children and grandchildren.
Memories like this have been drifting in since my grandpa passed away just after Thanksgiving. I wish I had gotten to know him better than I did. He was like a big, grumpy teddy bear who had an explosive laugh and authentic presence. When grandpa entered intensive care, I made plans with my mom to visit him in Massachusetts. We didn’t make it in time to see him one last time and that was really hard. I went through phases of shock, tears, and then regret that I grew up and wrote less letters than I had when I was a kid.
Flying to Amherst, Massachusetts for the weekend was a deeply moving experience for me to share memories with my Mom, Aunt Debbie, Uncle Mark, and Grandma Smith. It was a chance to spend time with my Smith-side of the family and learn more about the man who wore many hats in his life.
(Above Left) Lois, James, David, Debbie, and my mother, Emy in the little white dress
Grandma told us what it was like to get married at 21 and hop on a boat to Germany where he served in the Army for five years. (Above Right) Lois as a girl with her older sister and mother.
I cherished our deep conversations accompanied with tea, lebkuchen (German dessert), and old photos on our first day together. I also had the pleasure of sharing recipes and cooking with my grandma. She was so cute as she sang to her pots and pans while checking to see if the green beans were cooked.
My brother Teddy and his fiance Haley also joined us the next day to spend time with Grandma Smith. Time goes by quickly and it’s easy to lose touch with family far away by getting caught up in the busyness of life. I loved being able to spend time with my family and listen as they told stories about grandpa from when they were kids.
Emy and Mark reminiscing through old photo albums.
Mom and I visited the local Jones Library Special Collections and found a treasure trove of work that grandpa had donated to the community.
The librarians (Ed and Katie), showed us his published books The history of the Black population of Amherst, Massachusetts, 1728-1870 and Railroads and Trolleys of Amherst, MA along with thousands of hours of research found in binders, note cards, and files. They told us that he spent a lot of time studying in their alcove and wanted to know more from us about what he was like.
Grandpa pictured above with committee on a local project.
While in Amherst, I was able to sneak in a morning run from Grandma’s house to the Amethyst Brook Conservation across the street. It was nice to be out in the fresh air and quietly reflect. Grandpa had always loved traveling and adventure and I felt that piece of him with me that morning. Uncle Mark and Grandpa Jim hiking
The Robert Frost trail was gorgeous and I couldn’t help but snap some photos with my phone.
As the elevation increased, my run became a hike as I made my way to the top of Mt. Orient overlooking Pioneer Valley.
The weekend passed all too quickly before we were boarding our plane in Boston.
I still get emotional when I look at old photos of Grandpa but I’ve been looking for the good in all of this. I got to spend a couple of wonderful days with family that I don’t get to see very much for the sole purpose of sharing time with each other without the distractions of holidays or other events. Despite our sadness, we celebrated the life Grandpa lived to the fullest and shared with his wife for 59 years together -(only a few weeks shy of 60). Everyone is imperfect and life is confusing, but our legacy is being written every day. When I think about the kind of person I want to be in life, I look back at everything that has led to who I am today and all who have impacted me.
I would like to thank my mother, Emy Berger, for taking this special trip with me and my husband, Derek Jager, for encouraging me to book a flight and then surprise me with a real Christmas tree when I returned in somber spirits.
In memory of my first pen pal, Grandpa Smith, who taught me my first mental tricks. “In the shade, got it made…in the sun, love to run.”