Category Archives: THINGS I REMEMBER


Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014





Let me share with you a few thoughts on old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four (1965, actually), I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself in need of a new babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael.

Those two five year olds could get into more mischief than half a dozen other children their age. Once I came home to find Connie attempting to put together half a dozen bicycles and tricycles. Michael and his buddy Sean had taken apart all the bikes and trikes—to see how they worked, I think—but they were careful to keep all the parts in one pile. What one five year old didn’t think of doing, the other one came up with. Another time I came home to hear they had painted circles on the fences and whatever else they came in contact with.

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.

We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons, books about the White House, Southern cookbooks and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s. These were just a few of our mutual interests.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years, until I retired in December of 2002.—I only went to work “part time for six weeks IN 1977 to help out”, and there I was all those years later, casting an eye towards retirement and pleased that I had a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

Our sons started kindergarten together, and Connie’s oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

More than a decade ago, on June 29, 1998, Connie died of lung cancer. It seemed incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking together, at the same time. I never went back to smoking but a year later, Connie began smoking again. It was hard to understand—why would you take up something again that had been so hard to give up in the first place? (I don’t have the answer to this).

One night, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it has taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After she left, I opened the boxes and began laying books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing “WHAT’S COOKING IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN”. Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There was a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book. There were several books about soups that I had never seen before another subject I have written about previously, first for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, and again on my blog. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever. (The first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was with Connie.

My best friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once had been. She made new friends and so did I. But it was she who urged me to return to work in 1977, for which I remain forever grateful.

But I am deeply touched that some of her treasured books have come into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

Old books and old friends have a lot in common. As I have grown older, some of my dearest friends have passed away—but their books, now mine, remain treasures in my collection of books.

–Sandra Lee Smith


Christmas was the most magical holiday of my childhood; in retrospect many years later, I realize that my mother went to great lengths to make Christmas special, even though there was very little money.

I remember my dolls disappearing around in November and would reappear on Christmas Eve with new dresses that my mother made for them.

We celebrated the Feast of St Nicholas on December 6th, hanging my father’s long white socks (because they were the longest) on nails on the pantry cupboard door.  It was the only time I remember having a tangerine, and there would be hard candies in your stocking too. The Feast of St Nicholas meant that Christmas would soon be here.

My mother waited until Christmas Eve day to buy a tree, because by then whatever was left on the lot was marked down to something like fifty cents. The Christmas trees I remember were beautiful but as I look at an old photograph taken one Christmas when I was about five years old, I see that our Christmas  trees were really spindly and sparse. Bare spaces were filled in with a lot of tinsel.

We didn’t have great expectations, in the 40s and 50s—intuitively knowing that anything expensive would be out of the question.  We would go through the Sears catalog oohing and ahhing over all of the toys—for me it was all the baby dolls. Many of our gifts would be underwear and socks, articles of clothing always needed. I remember one year receiving Days of the Week panties in different colors.

We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve and my mother managed to get all of us out of the house for the day.  Some of those Christmas Eves, I took my younger brothers downtown to do our own Christmas shopping. We probably never had more than a dollar each saved up but somehow we managed to find presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings, at the 5 & 10 cent stores. My brothers and I loved going downtown in Cincinnati, especially during the holidays. We visited all of the major department stores (Shillitoes, Pogues, Mabley & Carew) so we could go see all of the Santa Clauses and get a free peppermint stick. (We knew they weren’t the real Santa Claus – these were just helpers – but my brothers climbed on each  Santa’s knee and told him what they wanted (a Gene Autry cap gun and holster and a authentic cowboy hat for Bill—but I can’t remember what Biff asked for).

How we ever managed to buy gifts for everyone in the family with our meager savings is a mystery. My girlfriend Carol Sue sometimes accompanied us downtown and years later confessed to being jealous of us. Jealous? I was incredulous – how could anyone be jealous of children who might have only a dollar to spend on all of their family members, never mind needing a nickel for the streetcar ride to and from downtown?  Carol said it baffled her that we managed to find gifts for everyone. AND if we had enough money left over, we shared a grilled cheese sandwich from the luncheon counter at Woolworths. I can only liken it to Jesus and the loaves and fishes. Somehow there was always enough. We would tote our treasures home and then wrap them in old gift wrap that we ironed to make it as good as new.

Christmas Eve generally found us children at my grandmother’s waiting for a telephone call. Then my father came to pick us all up in the family car. When the Chevie pulled up in front of our house on Sutter Street, we could see the decorated tree glowing from a living room window. My mother met us at the porch, exclaiming “You just missed him! He just left!” and we’d dash through the house hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus—not worrying too much about missing him when the living room was filled with PRESENTS.

I especially remember the year when the first thing I spotted in the living room was a desk. I had SO wanted a desk of my own. “My desk! My desk!” I cried.

“How do you know it’s for you?” my mother asked.

“Oh, I know!” I exclaimed, running my hands across the top of the desk.  I was about ten at the time and already had my career as a writer planned.

I may have been about the same age when my mother gave me a copy of Little Women for Christmas. It was the very first book of my own (not counting books I had found in my mother’s bookcase and commandeered them for my own). Another Christmas, a  few years later, my brother, Jim, gave me five brand new Nancy Drew mysteries – by then I was off and running. It wasn’t  enough to read the books; I wanted to own them too.

I don’t remember my mother ever doing a lot of holiday baking; my grandmother did, however. What I remember most vividly were butter cut out cookies all cut into diamond shapes; she would dip each cookie into egg white and then into a mixture of granulated sugar and chopped walnuts, before baking them. My sister, however, remembered Grandma making many different  Christmas cookies which were packed into a dress box. I have a lot of cookie cutters today, perhaps three hundred of them – but you know what I treasure the most? Yes, of course – grandma’s diamond shaped cookie cutter and another that is heart shaped.

I became a Christmas maniac  once I got married and began having children of my own—I would shop for bargains throughout the year and hide them in a closet so that my sons would have a lot of great presents to unwrap on Christmas morning. I began collecting Christmas ornaments and started baking cookies and freezing them in September.  I began collecting recipes for fruitcake and trying many different recipes.  You can’t have too many ornaments or too many Christmas cookie cutters; you can’t have too many angels –or, in our case, you can’t have too many trees. Before we moved into a much smaller house in the high desert, we were putting up eight Christmas trees!

This is what I remember about Christmas – not the presents so much as the unity between my younger brothers and myself, those trips downtown, our surreptitious trips upstairs to my bedroom where we wrapped everything, while my mother’s small Crosley radio (on top of the frig) played Christmas music .

If you ask my brothers, I think they will tell you the same thing.

Remembered by Sandra Lee Smith


When did this all begin?  Good question! I don’t remember my mother baking Christmas cookies and my grandmother’s cookies, I recall, were always diamond shaped butter cutout cookies, onto which she brushed egg white and then dusted them with blended sugar and finely chopped walnuts. My sister Becky corrected me and insisted that Grandma made many different kinds of cookies such as Lebkuchen and Spritz, Holiday Fruit cookies, Pfefferneusse (pepper nuts) or Springerle (which requires a special rolling pin or a board with designs imprinted on it). Becky said each family received a dress box full of Grandma’s cookies. Why don’t I remember this?

Grandma was from Germany, Grandpa from Hungary, so her baking was generally European—we grew up on a lot of strudel, often made with apples from her back yard. She also made doughnuts (especially for the Feast of the Three Kings, when we would find a coin in our doughnut)—but for the life of me I can’t remember anything except those diamond shaped cookies. I have her cookie cutter today—that and a small heart shaped cutter.

I got married December 6th in 1958 and don’t have any memory of making cookies that first Christmas, although I did begin to search for recipes. I clipped some holiday baking ideas out of December women’s magazines and searched through a Betty Crocker Picture cookbook that was a wedding present.  I think it highly unlikely that I would have attempted any cut-out cookies that first Christmas as a newlywed (did I even having a rolling pin?) but I might have made drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, cookies I was already familiar with.  In addition to the Becky Crocker Picture Cookbook, I had a Meta Given cookbook that had been my mother’s.  As I think back on that first Christmas, I don’t know if I even had baking equipment – cookie sheets or baking pans. It had been a very small wedding.

My first child was born in September, 1960 and I probably began baking cookies when he was a toddler.  What stands out most in my memory is that we had a wonderful big yellow stove that was popular in the 1920s. What wouldn’t I give to have that old stove today! (it was left behind when we moved to California in 1961).

What I do remember, quite well, is the Christmas of 1963. By this time my son Steve had been born and we drove across country to California a few weeks before Christmas, to avoid a heavy storm heading for the Midwest. We rented an apartment in Toluca Lake and friends came over on Christmas Eve to celebrate with homemade cookies and coffee. We didn’t have any furniture yet so everyone sat on the floor. Guests went home with bags of cookies – so sometime between 1958 and 1963 I did learn something about baking. We bought a small tree and some small toys for our two little boys. You don’t need much to celebrate Christmas. Cookies help!

–Sandra Lee Smith


When I was perhaps seven or eight years old—old enough to read my brother’s comic books—I discovered “ADS”. These ads were for free stamps – with approvals. Now, I certainly didn’t know what approvals were—nor did I know much about stamps (other than it took a 3 cent stamp to mail a letter or one cent to mail a postcard) – but I was captivated by the word “FREE”.  Now pre-paid postcards, from the post office, were one cent each and for ten cents (which was often the most I ever had) you could mail ten one cent postcards (hard to believe, isn’t it?)  I was constantly earning pennies running errands or selling greeting cards for my mother, which she bought and then sold from Cardinal Craftsman card company. I began using the penny postcards to send for the “FREE” stamps and when they came, on sheets of onionskin paper, with accompanying letters and literature, I blithely threw away anything that wasn’t a stamp, which I kept in a large dress box with my paper dolls. (In hindsight, I am baffled that my father never opened these packets of stamps—he opened all the other mail—the first time I submitted an article, printed in pencil, to My Weekly Reader—when I was in the second or third grade—my father opened that and read it before giving it to me—without any comment.  Why didn’t he open the envelopes containing the stamps?  I’ll never know.

At some point in time, when my cousin Margie and her siblings were visiting us, I showed the stamps to her. She expressed an interest in them, so I gave all of them to her and that was the end of my stamp collecting. By then, the stamp company began sending me threatening letters about my unpaid account. I confessed to my mother, who wrote to the stamp company explaining that their customer was eight years old and didn’t know any better and I learned what “with approvals” meant.

Now, you would think that this experience would have cured me but from early on, I was enchanted with the idea of receiving mail and even more thrilling was receiving things in the mail, free of change. In the 1940s, magazines such as Life and Look were filled with ads for things you could get FREE. One day I found a stack of old LIFE magazines in my grandmother’s basement. With never a thought that the magazines might someday become valuable, I began cutting out all the little coupons advertising FREE things. Along the way, I made another discovery. I wrote to the Cuticura people one day telling them how much I loved their soap and what do you know! They began sending me free gift packages with shampoo and big bars of cuticura soap. I also discovered that most food companies, at that time, offered free recipe booklets. These usually advertised not only in women’s magazines, but also on the backs of cans and boxes—such as baking powder, baking soda, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa. I began searching through all the containers in the pantry, reading the labels, searching for free booklet offers. The only limitation to this enterprise was acquiring enough pennies to buy more postcards. (one source was empty soda pop bottles, which were good for 2 cents each in the grocery stores. Everyone I knew—myself included—searched for pop bottles to redeem at the grocery store on the corner (Finke’s was on the corner of Pulte and Beekman while Mary’s was farther up on Pulte—there were numerous little mom-and-pop grocery stores and saloons all over Fairmount. Fred’s Cafe was on the other corner of Pulte and Beekman Streets.)

Before long, I had acquired a good size stack of free recipe booklets. With my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook and my stack of free recipe booklets, I began to learn how to cook. (My original collection of recipe booklets was lost, probably when my husband Jim and I made so many moves. When we first came to California—with what could be packed inside the car (or tied to the roof, like a baby bed) was mostly what we needed for our one year old child—many personal things were packed in my mother in law’s shed. The floor to that shed caved in one winter and my belongings were mostly trashed by the elements. My in-laws retrieved what they could but my scrapbooks, childhood dolls & other things were all lost. [and the concept of storage units was years away).

Throughout most of my adult life, I had been a “refunder”—saving proofs of purchases or box tops—to redeem for cash or premium offers…in 1970-1971, I saved all the money from refunding to pay for a trip to Ohio for entire family—by then my husband, myself, and four children. Back then, you could travel with a young child on your lap; I held one child and Jim held the other. We had two young children only 15 months apart.

One year I acquired half a dozen basketballs, free – for my sons and for my friends’ sons. Another time I acquired dolls for the girls. (I would use my own address as well as the addresses of close friends or neighbors.

One summer when I was in Ohio with three of the children –our oldest son stayed home with his father – the two of them opened all my refunding mail and kept the cash for themselves. That may have spelled the end of refunding for cash unless it was a check.  And I really don’t remember all the things I acquired free, so I asked my penpal, Penny, who became a penpal in the 1960s and with whom I frequently exchanged refund forms and occasionally the POPs (proof of purchases needed to fulfill a refund offer). She wrote this back to me:

There were, she writes, basket and baseballs, baseball bats, all sorts of T-shirts (I particularly remember the Smuckers and Reeses shirts) Fisher Price Snoopy Sniffer, stuffed toys, snuggle bear, mama, papa, and baby panda bears, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, a few Tonka trucks, Hot Wheel cars, Del Monte veggie pillows, Libby’s red wagons, baby clothes from Dreft.

There were also band aid wall sconces, Tide set of Melmac dishes, Kellogg’s silverware (which she still has), the glasses and cup sets from laundry detergents, free socks and boys/men’s underwear from Hanes, Hanes sports shorts and sweats, Duncan Hines cake pans (which Penny still has).

She thinks the following are from the 1980s..Camel/Salem free basketballs, baseballs, VHS recorder/player, sony camcorder, 19” tvs, boom boxes—this was a military form that failed to say so..and there were NO limits on the items you could get. Penny says “we picked up packages [from cigarettes] from the side of the road, bought them for 5 cents each, had the guys in the Tulsa county jail saving them for us…I got MANY duplicate things, mainly the basketballs, boom boxes, TVs and VHS recorder/players. Most cigarette brands were offering premiums and I got sooooo many. Sold the Marlboro setuff on Ebay and made over $500.00..”  (Penny did a lot more refunding than I did!).

Back when I was a young child, my mother saved the labels from Wilson’s Evaporated milk – which were redeemable at a small store in downtown Cincinnati – I know that I turned in batches of the labels, stapled together in groups of ten (for dish towels or other small kitchen items) and we all saved S&H green stamps to get free items.

I think it goes hand in hand with all the refunding Penny & I did when our sons were young boys—me with four sons, her with three.  Free was good – not so different from the free samples of Cuticura soap and recipe booklets that I acquired in the mail when I was a child!

And now you know the rest of the story!

–Sandra Lee Smith



SANDY WITH COUSINS DANNY & JOHNNY & BROTHERS BIFF & BILL 001(photo-left-after the parade)

First, let us start with the history of Memorial Day:

Per Wikipedia:  Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day (and often called this when I was a child),  it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate  both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. One year, when Bob and I were in Santa Barbara on Memorial Day, we saw thousands of little flags planted on the beach.

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead.

The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom.  Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. A claim was made in 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. There is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated soldiers’ graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, PA, claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. As a result, Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day.

Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The first well-known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865.

The sheer number of soldiers of both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead.

Memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s auxiliary of the GAR, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near major battlefields and thus mainly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s, much of the war time rancor was gone, and the speeches usually praised the brave soldiers both the Blue and Gray. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world.

Ironton, Ohio, lays claim to the nation’s oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade. Its first parade was held May 5, 1868, and the town has held it every year since. However, the Memorial Day parade in DoylestownPennsylvania, predates Ironton’s by one year.  **

The ceremonies and Memorial Day address at Gettysburg National Park became nationally well known, starting in 1868. In July 1913, veterans of the United States and Confederate armies gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most famous battle.

Speaking of parades, when I was a little girl, we walked to St Bonaventure Church in South Fairmount, wearing white clothes and carrying little flags and it was there that the Memorial Day Parade began. Students of St. Leo’s who played musical instruments lined up to march in the parade. When the parade began, we walked from St Bonnie’s – down Queen City Avenue until it ended at Beekman Street – over Beekman until we came to Baltimore Street, and then up Baltimore until we passed St Leo’s and came to the Baltimore Pike Cemetery, which happened to be next door to my grandmother’s house. At the end of the parade, children were given a popsicle and dignitaries of Cincinnati made speeches.

For weeks prior to Memorial Day, my mother and aunts made artificial flowers out of tissue paper and crepe paper. The dining room table would be covered with artificial flowers for weeks. They made bouquets of the artificial flowers to sell along with live flowers from my grandmother’s garden. We children stood on the corner at the entrance to the cemetery, crying out “Flowers for Sale!! Fifty Cents! (or maybe twenty five cents by the end of the day). A lot of flowers were sold this way and Grandma would give each child a quarter for our participation in this family fundraiser.

I can’t even imagine, today, how long of a walk that was for young children. I think it had to be about five miles long. I remember how my legs ached at the end of the day. I don’t think any of us, at such a young age, understood the significance of the parade or our marching. But we’d do almost anything for a free popsicle.

SANDY - TIMES OF MY LIFE - WITH BROTHES BILL & BIFF 001(photo at left- still wearing white for the parade)

Occasionally, my cousin, Johnny, or my brothers Biff and Bill, and I would go up to the cemetery next door to my grandmother’s. The lower part of the cemetery was all grassy grounds—the graves were far above at the top of the cemetery. I would search for my playmate’s grave—Lonna May Wright was a playmate in kindergarten and first grade—who was killed by a truck while she was roller skating in the street. Her grave had an angel headstone which made it easier to find. I don’t remember who told me that Lonna May had been killed—I think it might have been my aunt Dolly. Family members surely knew that she was my playmate. Someone probably pointed out the dangers of skating in the street – no one would have overlooked the opportunity to implant a life lesson. I searched until I found Lonna May in my first communion group photograph.  When I think of memorial day, I am irrevocably reminded of Lonna May. It might not have been the intention of the founders of Memorial Day – but I think it became a reminder to all of us, everywhere, of those we have lost in life.  And so, this year, even though I am far from the cemetery on Baltimore Street, I will be thinking of Lonna May, a cute little girl who died far too young.

If I were in town and visited old St Joseph cemetery – I could take flowers to the graves of family members and uncles who served in world war II.

Memories are made of this. We remember for many different reasons.

–Sandra Lee Smith


I wrote the following early in the morning of September 30th.. 2000. It was a way of dealing with my grief, of paying tribute to my mother’s life.  I sent copies to family members, not anticipating, but thrilled by outpouring of thoughts and memories shared by other family members, all wonderful testimonies to my mother’s life. My sisters and I put these together with some photographs, to share with the family.  I called my essay


On September 29, 2000, Viola Beckman Schmidt quietly died in a nursing home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was 83, and thus ended a long battle with Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease.  My mother spent the last four years of her life at Luther Home, old and frail, a mere shadow of the person she used to be. I visited her twice at Luther Home; I don’t think she ever knew who I was.  I prefer to remember my mother as she once was.

Viola Schmidt is survived by seven children, twenty-five grandchildren, twenty-four great-grandchildren and two great great grandchildren. Her husband and sisters and brothers have all gone before her.

Viola was eighth in a family of nine children in the Beckman family. As a young girl she was called Ola, a name she never liked. She began calling herself Vi.

My mother loved school, loved to learn. She chafed at being held back a grade by her mother, so that Viola and her younger sister Lorraine could share the same books. After 8th grade graduation, my mother had to leave school to go to work in a Jergens factory. She had to give her pay packet to her mother. I think mom resented her own mother’s preferential treatment to her sons, my mother’s brothers—but in the end, it was my mother who took care of her mother.  She also helped nurse two of her sisters as they died of cancer.

My mother was seventeen years old when she married my father. Not until recently did I learn, through my cousin, Irene, how my father had met her father when they were young boys, and became best friends. They went on to take dancing lessons so they could “impress those pretty Beckman girls”. The two best friends married the two sisters.

As a little girl, I thought my parents were the strongest, most forceful people on earth. My mother was always a whirlwind of activity, washing clothes, cooking, baking (two huge loaves of bread, weekly, baked in a large roasting pan). Mom was constantly sewing or darning socks She made twin dresses for my sister Barbara and I – she made most of our clothing. My mother made the dress I wore to make my first Holy Communion, the dress I wore to my 8th grade graduation and the dress I wore on my high school graduation day. She made graduation dresses for Barbara and later on, for our younger sister, Susanne.  (I think we took those homemade dresses for granted).

My mother was a beautiful woman, with dark curly hair and high cheekbones, who—despite WW2, rationing and hardships, always dressed stylishly. She wore starched housedresses that she made herself.

I have a picture in my mind, of my parents descending the stairs to the dining room on Sutter Street, dressed in their Sunday best as they went out to a party. Both my parents loved parties and they loved to bowl.

For years they bowled as many as three leagues a week. (When I was little, I thought my father bowled for someone named Mica, because he was always going to bowl “Formica”).

My mother loved music and played piano “by ear”.  She couldn’t read a note of music but could sit down – and play. My favorite memory is my mother playing “Silver Bells” and “Glow Worm” on the piano, an upright that stood in our dining room on Sutter Street. She had a great collection of 78-rpm records, which I played whenever I was dusting furniture. Somehow Mom saw to it that we had music lessons. Barbara and Susie and I took piano; Jim played clarinet.  (Did it ever occur to any of us that we were being given what she had been denied?)

 When I was about eight years old, we children took it into our heads to put on a “show”. We charged a penny admission; my mother made popcorn and Kool Aid for us to sell. I remember her sitting on a hassock in the living room, teaching us the words to “Red River Valley”. Whenever I hear that song, I remember my mother, patiently teaching us the words.

My parents gave us a wonderful amount of freedom. They encouraged us to think for ourselves, to take care of ourselves and each other. Times were hard, during World War 2 and for some years after. You want something? Go out and earn the money for it!  And so we did. I think I started selling greeting cards to the neighbors on Sutter Street when I was about seven years old. I wasn’t much older than that when my mother sent me by bus to the Cardinal Craftsman Greeting Card Company to pick up her card order. This required changing buses under the Western Hills Viaduct!

Around the same time, my mother began sending me downtown to pay a dollar a week on a coat she had in layaway at Lerner’s. I’d have a dollar to pay at Lerner’s, two nickels for bus fare, and—sometimes if I were very lucky—a few pennies to spend at one of the Dime Stores in downtown Cincinnati. I fell in love with “downtown” and began taking my younger brothers with me on annual pilgrimages, to do our Christmas shopping and visit the Nativity at Garfield Park. What enormous freedom we had!

I was a mere four year old, my brother Jim seven, Barbara eight, and Biff a 1-year old baby when my parents bought their first home on Sutter Street. They had spent the first 9 years of married life living with my father’s parents.  Jim had the assignment of walking me (and our baby brother!) to the new home from my grandmother’s house on Baltimore Avenue!   Jim pulled a red wagon with the baby sitting inside.  (at this time, Biff was the baby of the family)

My eight-year-old sister was responsible for her younger siblings. Later, I would become responsible for my two younger brothers. I don’t remember ever resenting this responsibility. It was just something we all did. My brother Jim was responsible for me when we began dating.  (Little did I know! or I might have complained. But as far as I was concerned, we were just double-dating).

When I got married, my mother baked my wedding cake and threw together a reception on very short notice.  A couple of years later, when I told her we were thinking of moving to California, she said, “If there’s something you want to do, do it now, while you can. Later on, you may not be able to do what you want”.  It wasn’t until many years later that it occurred to me that, perhaps, she was talking about herself when she said those words to me.

My mother loved music and loved to dance. After my father died in 1984, my brother Jim asked mom what she wanted to do. She replied, “I always wanted to dance”. And so, when she was in her 60s, my mother “took up dancing”. I think, despite my father’s death, this was a happy and satisfying period in my mother’s life. She loved to perform, to get up on a stage and “strut her stuff”.  In another place and time, she might have been an actress or a dancer.

My parents made several trips to California, the first in 1965 when Scott and Susie were very young. What I remember most about this visit was our trip to Disneyland. My parents were tireless; they were determined to go on every single ride at Disneyland. While my husband and I rested on benches, they darted from attraction to attraction. It was also during this visit that my parents went to a television game show called “Truth or Consequences”, where my mother became a contestant and won $100.00. She was never shy about jumping up and down and making herself noticed! She wanted to be a star!

Another thing I particularly remember about my mother was our family Christmases. I think it is from my mother that I inherited a great love for Christmas. My mother always endeavored to make it perfect for all of us, surely not an easy task during hard times. I remember how, one year, all of my dolls disappeared before Christmas, and re-appeared Christmas Eve with brand new dresses.  I remember my longing for a desk of my own, and receiving it on Christmas. I remember how, one year my mother was so sick and had been in the hospital – but she somehow came home to spend Christmas with us. The Christmas tree never went up until Christmas Eve, and none of us ever participated in decorating it. Not until many years later would I learn that the reason our tree didn’t go up until Christmas eve, was because my mother waited until the last minute to get one as cheap as possible. My mother was a child of the depression and was, if nothing else, very frugal!  (Once, when they were here in California for Christmas and we were taking down our tree, my mother said “Sandy, aren’t you going to save your tinsel?” and I replied, “Oh, gosh no, Mom!  It’s so cheap – we’ll just get new tinsel next year”. To which my mother replied, loftily, “Well, that’s why I get to go to Hawaii and you don’t!”  AHA!

My mother gave us wonderful birthday parties. She took us—and sometimes our friends—to Cincinnati’s Coney Island, an amusement park, once a year on Findlay Market Day, where all of us, my mother included, participated in games and contests to win prizes.  Surely it was from my mother that we all inherited such a fierce sense of competitiveness!  It was never enough to simply participate -–we had to win – and we did.

 And thanks to her love of photography, we all have wonderful huge collections of photographs, images of the birthday parties and Christmases and special events in our lives. It was surely from my mother that we all inherited such a love of photography. At any Schmidt gathering, dozens of cameras will be flashing pictures.

My parents moved to Florida in the late 70s, after dad retired from Formica. There, at the Four Seasons Estates, my mother was the Sunshine Lady, who rode her bike around the park delivering get well cards to those who were sick or not feeling up to par. In 1979, when we moved to North Miami, I was able to spend a lot more time with my parents—either they drove across the State to see us, or the boys and I would take Greyhound Buses to Tampa to see them. One of my favorite pictures of my mother is one I took at the beach at Biscayne Bay during this period of time.  I keep a copy of this photograph on my desk at work.

 So much of who we are and what we are comes from our parents –not only their genes and their flesh and blood, but their ambitions and values, their hopes and dreams and desires, their love of challenges and the fearlessness to meet those challenges head-on are passed along to us as well. Maybe some of their favorite past times, too, like reading, bowling, and crossword puzzles.

I like to think that maybe, my mother and father are dancing somewhere in heaven. He may be saying to her, “It sure took you long enough to get here!” and maybe my mother is responding, sassily, “Well, I took dancing lessons along the way”.  My mother always wanted to be a star.  Now she is, in heaven.  —  Sandra Lee Schmidt Smith