Category Archives: REFLECTIONS



In Memory of Evelyn Neumeister Schmidt—My Aunt Dolly

She was a Renaissance Woman
If ever there was one;
Beautiful, blonde hair and blue eyes,
She could have been royalty;
She carried herself with regal ease.
Her father was enchanted with her tiny features
And winsome ways;
“She’s just like a little doll!” he said;
“We can call her Dolly” and so they did.
She took classes once her children were grown;
Her specialty was art—oils, charcoal—she could
Draw or paint—whatever captured her attention.
I hardly knew her when I was growing up and
Moved to California when I was twenty-one,
But came to appreciate her wit, talent, creativity
And vitality and her wonderful, gentle laughter
When I became an adult and my children were grown.
I was able to visit her home on North Bend Road
Many times, often with my sister, Becky, sometimes
With my brother Bill—a few times on my own;
She was the kind of aunt you wanted to have
All to yourself.

When she was recuperating from spinal surgery
In 2005, I was able to go “take care” of
Her for a couple weeks—and some years
Later, in 2012, I was able to go again to her
Home in Port Orange, where she had
Relocated, and I was able to cook and bake
For her.

My visit to Florida in 2012 would be the last
Time I had the opportunity to spend time
With this one-of-a-kind-aunt—who learned to
Bake at the elbow of my grandmother when
Aunt Dolly was only a teenager. She became
Our link between a grandmother who had
Passed away in 1959 but left a legacy of recipes.

Throughout my house there are some of my
Aunt’s paintings—but the one treasure most is a
Painting of my paternal grandmother, Susanna
Gengler Schmidt, that Aunt Doll6y copied from an
Old photograph of my grandmother as a young

As I was preparing to return to California in
2005, my aunt asked me if I liked that painting.
“Of course!” I repli4ed, “It’s one of your best
She asked if I would like to have it.

Like my aunt, the painting of Grandma Schmidt
Is one of a kind. It hangs over my fireplace
In Quartz Hill, California.

Aunt Dolly’s professional name was
Evelyn Neumeister Schmidt—but to all her
Adoring nieces and nephews—she was always
“Aunt Dolly”.

Today, May 10, 2015, would have been
Aunt Dolly’s birthday.

–Sandra Lee Smith


In 1954, I graduated from the 8th grade at St. Leo’s School in North Fairmount in May or June, and then in September was one of more than one hundred and fifty Freshman classmates to start high school at Mother of Mercy, on Werk Road in Cincinnati.

At the time, my parents were still living in Fairmount and it only took two buses to get to school; after we moved to North College Hill when I was fifteen, it took three buses and a lot of walking. Meantime, it was 1954 and one of my majors was domestic science. My freshman class roster included sewing class.

The first thing freshman girls were required to make was an apron. When the teacher introduced us to the sewing machines, she asked if I could gather. “Sure I can gather” I said and proceeded to fold the fabric into the machine.

“That’s NOT how you gather,” said the teacher (annoyed, I think), instructing me to take out all my bad stitches.

“I learned from my grandmother,” I explained. “That was how SHE gathered.”

I had already made a bad impression on the teacher, one of the few women at Mercy who was not a nun.(I redeemed myself later on with all written tests and exercises—I could memorize anything).

Now, the next thing 99% of the students in sewing class made was a wool skirt. It required two pieces of fabric, a front and a back, with a belt-size piece of fabric, a waist band that went around the waist. The most difficult part of the skirt was putting in a zipper. I didn’t want to put in a zipper so I elected to make a pair of pajamas that went to the knees, like Capri pants, in a lavender print fabric that my mother must have had laying around (I don’t remember ever going to buy fabric) The thing about these pajamas is that they had French seams everywhere. If you don’t know what a French seam is, don’t waste your time learning how – it’s like the seam on the outside of a good pair of jeans. To this day, I remember those French seams.

Here’s what happened: I had sewing class two or three days a week. I would work on my French seams for an hour, then squash the pajamas into my sewing box and take them home to my mother, who would tear out my bad seams and re-do the whole thing.

Months later the pajamas were finished and they lasted for years. I once hyperventilated when I saw a piece of that fabric in a quilt that my mother made for my sister, Susanne.

The next thing I made was a dress. The fabric was a lovely pale dotted swiss. The dress went back and forth in the sewing box too—I think it was finally finished at the end of the school year—by then my breast size had increased and the dress was too tight for me to wear. I don’t know what my mother did with that dress, either.

Now here’s the thing—my two best friends from childhood (when we sat on our front porches making doll dresses for little dolls that predated Barbie) – both sew all kinds of things and both of them quilt as well. My friend Patti even has names for her sewing machines – she has two. They are Sweetie One and Sweetie Two.

ALL of my friends sew. My best friend here in California, Mary Jaynne, has been doing all of my mending and took up Bob’s new Dockers whenever he got a new pair of pants—she does all of my mending and alterations; I make soup for them. I freeze the soups, stews, and chowders in 2-quart Glad Lock plastic containers. When frozen solid, the soup or stew pops out and can be put into a zip lock freezer bag—and then labeled with a black Sharpee pen. (Mrs. Cunningham, my cooking teacher, would have been proud)

I think all of my girlfriends quilt as well. I don’t sew; I gave it up when my Freshman year came to an end.

I do have a button box; when I was married my Ex couldn’t understand how someone who didn’t sew could have a button box. “I like buttons”, I explained. He never got it. I played with my mother’s button box when I was a little girl. No sewing onto things was ever required.

Four Years at Mercy
Class of 1958

In 1954, we were the freshman class,
girls from many parishes,
wearing new blue uniforms
with crisp white blouses,
bobby socks and
penny loafers,
blue and white beanie caps;
assigned our lockers,
and a list
of the rooms
of all our classes.
In my dreams
I still lose the slip of paper
with my classes
and have to go to
Sister Emily’s office
to get another.
I may have lost
that list
once or twice
every year.
I may have been
slightly scatterbrained.
Religion, English, General Math,
Science, Domestic Science (Sewing)
I was not very good
at sewing
and spent a year
making a pair
of pajamas
with French seams.
Public Speaking.
I had a class in Public Speaking?
I did not like P.E.
(and it did not like me. I think
the teacher took pity
on the girl
with two left feet–I became the coach).

In 1955, we were the Sophomores
No longer the new kids on the block.
We were worldly, experienced,
and knew our way
around the halls
and up and down the stairwells.
I still lost my list of classes
once or twice
until I had them memorized.
Religion, English, Biology
(Sister Joseph, I remember you well–oh
that all the world could have been
as enthusiastic
as you!)
World History, Public Speaking (again?)
Domestic Science (Cooking Class. I love you
Mrs. Cunningham, Where ever you are).
How did I ever get a 97.5 average in P.E.?
(Is this really my report card?)

In 1956, we became Juniors.
No longer babies.
“Young Women,”
Sister said.
Religion, English,
U.S. History,
Homemaking II,
(I graduate from 2-finger
Typing to using both hands)
Office Practice.
(Sister Joseph again. We practiced
writing checks
for weeks. Sister was a stickler
for getting it right.
To this day,
I write a pretty good check.)
(How did I ever get a 92.5 average?)
A in Conduct.
Ok, I could live with that.

In 1957, we became the Senior Class.
Religion, English,
Business Math,
Problems of Democracy,
(Democracy is still having problems
Fifty years later)
Typing, (loved typing class)
The Senior Prom.
Getting our class pictures taken.
Final exams.
Graduation Day
in front of the school.

Of all the things–
the documents,
driver’s license,
birth certificates for
four sons,
and bits of paper
that have trailed me through life
(not to mention many moves)
much has been lost
along the way.
But somehow
I have managed
to keep
Four important report cards.
Proof that I was there,
for four years
and graduated
from Mother of Mercy
High School
June 4, 1958.

–Sandra Lee Smith (Schmidt)
Class of ’58


In the midst of a recent exchange with one of my email pals, it crossed my mind that we grew up, in the 30s, 40s. and 50s with a dearth of fresh vegetables. I never tasted fresh spinach before moving to California. Ditto fresh asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts or bell peppers. In the Cincinnati of my childhood, bell peppers were called “mangoes” (it’s a long story; I’ll spare you for now). Other fresh vegetables we never had: artichokes, eggplant, cauliflower, Kohlrabi, mushrooms, okra, parsnips, rutabagas, any kind of squash, turnips or zucchini.

As a child of the 40s and 50s in a family of five children, we had carrots and potatoes with stewed chicken on Sunday, served with my mother’s library paste rice that I loathed but not very long ago discovered my brother Bill actually liked it. I didn’t like rice until I was married and began discovering rice pilaf, brown rice and a wealth of other rice dishes. Then I realized that it wasn’t the rice that I loathed; it was the way my mother cooked it. It was the same thing with cabbage. My mother began cooking cabbage around 9 am in the morning, for supper at 6 pm. It was cabbage slime.

The wonder of it all is that I learned how to make corned beef and cabbage on my own—and liked it. (Cut into wedges, cooked gently until just done in a crockpot with the pre-cooked corned beef). Sometimes, such as on a Sunday dinner, we had a simple green lettuce salad with a vinaigrette mixed in, otherwise we didn’t have salads. Cottage cheese was often on the table and considered a salad.

We sometimes had canned asparagus, canned peas, canned beets, canned corn, canned tomatoes and canned string beans—all of which I liked but it took fresh asparagus, peas, beets and corn and beans to awaken my taste buds and make me love those vegetables. I think we might have had corn on the cob once a year but I wouldn’t swear to it.

After being gifted with my maternal grandmother’s cookbook from my cousin Renee on one of my visits to Cincinnati, I had an inkling that my mother’s cooking was largely her mother’s cooking some of which is reflected in Grandma Beckman’s late 1800s cookbook.

The one thing my mother made “from scratch” regularly was bread – two large loaves of it baked in a large black speckled roasting pan twice a week. Oh, how I envied kids with sandwiches made from Wonder Bread! Our sliced bread sandwiches were at least six inches thick. However, that being said – if you happened to be in the kitchen when my mother took a loaf of bread out of the oven and she sliced off an end for you to try with a little margarine—now that was heaven!

One dish I loved was canned peas made with a white cream sauce (like a Bechamel sauce). My mother used evaporated milk in the sauce (mixed in with the liquid from the canned peas) and I loved it. Years later discovered my sister Becky loved peas made this way too. When we had salmon patties (made from canned salmon) on a Friday, it was usually with creamed peas. Growing up, I didn’t know there was any such thing as fresh salmon—not in the Midwest it wasn’t. And I don’t remember ever having any kind of other fish, fresh or otherwise.

And speaking of peas, one of the ladies in my support group says she had peas, usually with pearl onions, almost every Sunday while visiting her grandfather and she became sick of them.

For the life of me I can’t remember my mother ever making fried chicken—the only kind of chicken I remember having was stewed—and once in a blue moon, my mother made French fries, draining them on brown paper bags that were torn open to lay flat. I really learned how to make fried chicken from my mother in law, Bertha Smith, who was from Bluefield West Virginia. I also learned how to make white gravy from her (wonderful with fried chicken when you have all those drippings and bits and pieces from the chicken).

Throughout the years when my sons were growing up, I made fried chicken at least once a week but I cut up two chickens to fry—to have with biscuits and gravy. (There was a good reason for frying at least two chickens at a time; my then-husband and sons often brought strays home for dinner (friends who didn’t have anywhere to go for dinner).

Everyone knew what time we had dinner and many of them just happened to show up at that time—no one was ever turned away. And it was a simple matter to make a double or triple batch of buttermilk biscuits and a vat of white gravy.  We always had a salad and some kind of vegetable—thinking back, I know they all liked corn so that was probably on the table the most often—but not canned! I became an advocate for fresh and frozen veggies.

I just thought of something else I want to add to this – my son Kelly has been on a fairly strict food plan for several years now. He sees a doctor in the San Fernando Valley (that his father recommended to him) because Kelly had so many digestive problems. He went on this “diet” which allows potatoes – he can have them baked or mashed – but no milk in the mashing and only margarine to go on it. He went down 3 pants sizes and the puffiness went out of his face. he can have almost any kind of meat except pork & he can eat a lot of salads, which he does. If they are coming over here to eat I generally make baked potatoes. When Keara makes mashed potatoes for them, she just uses the potato water mashing them.

And I haven’t made chocolate chip cookies since Christmas because he will EAT them even when he SHOULDN’T.

Occasionally my mother made a kidney stew that was served with wide cooked noodles; I liked it well enough until I learned where the kidneys came from and what their purpose was. We also had liver & onions every so often—something I liked and when I was first married, it was a meal you could make for next to nothing. Calves liver was cheap (not so much anymore) and a few brown onions were cheap as well.

However, I just don’t remember many side dishes of vegetables. My mother would ‘pickle’ a can of red beets—which my father liked. I didn’t like beets until I began cooking fresh ones myself, cooking the green tops as well as the beets. Now shoestring red beets are one of my favorite “sides” on a salad. And while checking through some old cookbooks, I have discovered that my mother was making Harvard Beets with those canned red beets
Now might be a good time to tell my “mango” story; backing up first – in Cincinnati in the 40s and 50s, bell peppers were called “mangoes” – the how and why of it is something I have written about on my blog before. We had “filled mangoes” probably several times a month when bell peppers were in season. It was something my mother could make using a small amount of ground beef; you hollowed out the bell peppers (mangoes) and filled them with ground beef mixed with uncooked rice and maybe an egg mixed into it. Tomato sauce was poured over it all and cooked in the oven. Voila – stuffed mangoes.

Well, shortly after we moved to California in 1961, my then-husband Jim and I became acquainted with a couple named Jim & Teresa, we often had meals at their apartment. Teresa was from Louisiana and an excellent cook. So – one night when we were there for dinner and I was chatting with Teresa in the kitchen, she asked me what kind of dishes I liked to make. “Well, for one, stuffed mangoes” I replied. (I had never even heard of any other kind of “mango”) – it took a lot of explaining before I understood that what WE called stuffed mangoes—wasn’t made with mangoes at all—they were made with bell peppers. I never referred to stuffed bell peppers as “mangoes” again.

(*I wish I could find Teresa again. I happened to see her and her daughter Connie in the early 1980s at a park when I was working at SAG in the summer and was staying with girlfriend Mary Jaynne at the time. I think Theresa was divorced by then. Well, I digress—people come and go from your life in California, more so than people you know from your childhood elsewhere and who are still living in places like my hometown of Cincinnati). ***

I think, I will make and freeze stuffed peppers when Kelly”s veggie garden goes into overdrive this year. I diced a lot of the bell peppers and froze them like that –and I still have some in the freezer. He has become quite the gardener.

This reminds me of another one of my mother’s frequent vegetable dishes when we were growing up – it was a kind of stewed canned tomato that had bread mixed in with it. The closest thing I can find for that is a Better Homes & Gardens recipe for “scalloped tomatoes” that contained several slices of toasted bread cut into cubes. I think my mother’s version would have contained cut up homemade bread that wasn’t toasted.

I have written about my mother’s one and only cookbook, an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook but I think my mother only used it for baked things, like cookies; I took over that cookbook years ago—when I was about ten years old.

My mother had a few recipes in a recipe box that I now have. Despite being practically greenless as we grew up, somehow the whole bunch of us (six siblings) managed to grow up without breaking any arms or legs. I had a calcium deficiency that was diagnosed when my teeth kept crumbling until a doctor suggested I have them pulled and dentures made. So, at the age of 25, I acquired dentures. And oddly enough, despite taking four falls last year when I was recuperating from an illness—I didn’t break any bones. My doctors thought it remarkable that I didn’t break anything. (I think I was having problems with balance for about six months last year).

As for my mother, I want to add that when we were growing up in the 30s, 40s and into the 50s, my mother had a grocery allowance of $10.00 a week, which explains the homemade bread and meals made with organ meats such as kidneys and liver. Fresh vegetables had to cost more than canned at that time. She did the best she could with what she had.

I understand how it was—for many years of my marriage and before I went back to work in 1977, I had to make do with very little and do the best I could.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Surely Synchronicity!  Received this from girlfriend Doreen:


Pasta had not been invented.  It was macaroni or spaghetti.  Curry was a surname.  A take-away was a mathematical problem.  Pizza? Sounds like a leaning tower somewhere.  Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time.  All chips were plain.

Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.

A Big Mac was what we wore when it was raining. Brown bread was something only poor people ate.  Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.  Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.  Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.  Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.

None of us had ever heard of yogurt.  Healthy food consisted of anything edible.  Cooking outside was called camping.  Seaweed was not a recognized food.  ‘Kebab’ was not even a word, never mind a food. Sugar enjoyed a good press in those days, and was regarded as being white gold.  Prunes were medicinal.

Surprisingly muesli was readily available. It was called cattle feed.  Pineapples came in chunks in a tin; we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.  Water came out of the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than gasoline for it they would have become a laughing stock.  The one thing that we never ever had on/at our table in the fifties…was elbows or hats!


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





Last week, possibly on Friday, I bought some groceries at the supermarket on 30th and Avenue L—a little out of my way, but the nearest Von’s and Albertson’s supermarkets while closer than the Stater Brothers store, were, I thought, a little more expensive—and the boxed wine that I buy—was always several dollars less than that of Von’s or Albertson’s. (I don’t even clip the supermarket weekly special coupons from Von’s anymore because THEIR fine print is also too fine for me).

As I was on my way home, I was baffled because the total was higher than I anticipated. (and the truth is, I rarely double-check cash register receipts, as long as the total is in the ballpark figure of what I think it ought to be). So, after returning home and putting groceries away, I began to check the cash register receipt—and was completely blown away to find that my $7.99 box of Blush wine—had cost me $11.99 – four dollars more! So today, I went back to Stater Brothers, re-checked the price of the blush boxed wine—then went to find the manager to question him about the total. I told him I go out of my way to go to this store because the prices were always better than its competitors—and I was always able to get a box of wine in the $7.99 – $8.99 price range. He returned to the wine racks with me – and then asked if I realized I had to buy FOUR boxes of the wine to get it at the $7.99 price.
“When did that go into effect?” I asked, to which he replied , “About two or three years ago”. And he pointed out the tiny fine print on the price racks.

“Well, I NEVER buy four boxes of wine at the same time,” I said “AND I couldn’t read the fine print even with my glasses on”.

Well to make a long story even longer, the store manager gave me a refund of the $3.99 that I felt I had been overpriced on. And I made up my mind to go the extra distance and go to the Food4less store down on Avenue J and 15th (Which is a branch of the Kroger chain back in Ohio) – but I will check the fine print on THAT store as well, before I buy any. It irks me that buying four of a product to get the lower price means buying a lot more groceries than I want or need. (and nothing like this “buy four to get a lower price” existed when I was raising four sons and trying to get by on as little as possible—we were as poor as church mice until I went back to work full time in 1977.

I KNEW about the requirement to buy four of a given product, such as cake mixes and cereal – but it never occurred to me that the store was requiring me to buy 4 boxes of wine (or any combination thereof) @ 5 liters per box–enough wine to last me the rest of 2014. And, I need to get a new (stronger) pair of glasses—or go supermarket shopping with a big magnifying glass.

As I reflect on this store requirement forcing me to buy four of an item to get the lowest price, and considering that I am retired and on a fixed income—and mind you, this “buy four to get a lower price” appears to be universal in the southern California supermarket regions—I’m at a loss. It wasn’t a major issue when my granddaughter was still going to high school and practically lived here—but now that I am truly living alone….it’s high time I read the fine print. I think I will shop for a strong magnifying glass this afternoon.

–Sandra Lee Smith


When Savannah was born, on October 22, 1994, she was the first born of my grandchildren—and I was thrilled to finally have a little girl in my life.

From my journals, I wrote “October 22, 1994, Saturday – my first grandchild – a GIRL – was born at 11 am this morning. Her name is Savannah Marie…Kelly & Keara went to the hospital last night – but they had so many false alarms – I didn’t try to get to Palmdale til this morning. I got Jim to drive me and we arrive about 5 minutes before the baby was born. (at 11) and I wasn’t allowed in. Sara her sister and Kelly were with her. The baby has been in an incubator since she was born – at first they said she was breathing too fast and they were running tests & implied to Keara that maybe the baby had Down Syndrome or something. The kids have been frightened out of their wits. Linda brought me back to the house (I can’t think anymore). Kelly stayed at the hospital. We’ve gone back and forth so many times.

October 26 1994-Today is Bob’s birthday. Savannah is 4 days old and seems to be doing fine, according to the kids.
From a letter to Bev dated December, 1994 – “…what a year this has been. Most important to us was the recent birth of my first grandchild-a grand DAUGTHER who was born October 22nd. Her name is Savannah Marie Smith; her parents are Kelly & Keara…at one month of age she is up to a little over 8 lbs. We are all smitten, of course, and think she is the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread. Kelly has me amazed; he changes diapers, feeds the baby, does everything for the baby.

Savannah had a hard time getting here and when she was born, had the cord wrapped twice around her neck; they kept her in an incubator the first 24 hours and kept her in the hospital an extra day because she was having some respiratory problems. We all spent some anxious hours while they ran tests and checked her out. She was about 3 weeks early and Keara had a long and hard labor. No doubt she would have had to have a Caesarian if the baby had been full term. The hospital staff said she would have been more like 8½ – 9 lbs. I spent that weekend out at Kelly’s home in Lancaster then went back the following weekend and cooked a small turkey for the kids…”

From a letter to Bev, written in March, 1995, “I am beginning to think it would be more likely that I would move to Lancaster after I retire – to be near my granddaughter. …the baby is smiling and cooing… Keara swears she says “hi”. Well you know doting mothers. She does babble and has a cute smile. Her mother says she isn’t the princess of ALMOST everything, it’s just everything. She sure is going to be daddy’s girl though…Oh, I kept Savannah overnight for the first time a few weeks back. She took a bottle and went to sleep in my bed at 11 pm and slept til 7 am! At 9 am, up pulls Kelly’s truck and they both jump out and dash in. I shushed them at the door – the baby had just gone back to sleep. They were kind of put out, I think, that she slept all night. Said “oh, well, it must be because she was coming down with a cold”. (Don’t they have that backwards?) That baby knew she was in grammy’s bed!..”

So, that was the beginning of my role being Grammy. As time went by, however, I found it next to impossible to get Savannah to warm up to me. Her parents would say “oh, well, it’s because she’s so shy” – but she wasn’t shy with her Nana, Keara’s mother, or a lot of other people. She and I did make cookies together when she was two years old and we bonded best if no one else was around. Still, she remained aloof with me, despite my best efforts, –until her brother was born in 2002.

From my journal dated 2004, I wrote “Christmas Eve day, Kelly & Keara came down early so that they could go visit his dad – Ethan pitched a fit and didn’t want to go—the last time they were down here, Ethan didn’t want to leave and cried most of the way home. so I said …oh, leave him with me & they did. He is grammy’s boy! I think Savannah may be a little put out about it but Keara explained to her that she was always Nana’s girl (Keara’s mother) and didn’t grow close to me until a few years ago. It’s very meaningful to me that at last I have a grandchild who is “all mine”. They left and I put Teletubbies on for Ethan; he patted the couch next to him and said “Sit here with me, grammy” so I did & I burned some of the rice but what the heck.

Savannah was perplexed that Ethan wanted to stay with me instead of going to see his grandpa Jim. She asked her mother why Ethan wanted to stay with me. Keara said “Well, remember how you always wanted to stay with Nana? Now Ethan wants to stay with Grammy” – and quite possibly my granddaughter deduced that maybe she was missing out on something. 

That was really when Savannah began warming up to me and by this time there were several other grandchildren and we began doing a Christmas cookie & craft project (as well as Easter cookie craft, Valentine’s Day cookie & craft and Halloween cookie & craft). Even so, I don’t think Savannah and I grew really close until Bob and I moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008. I drove her and a couple girlfriends to and from school several days a week; we began baking cupcakes and cookies—and when she was eight I began teaching her how to play Scrabble. By the time she was 18, she could beat almost anyone at Scrabble – except, maybe, Uncle Steve. After Grandpa Bob passed away in 2011, Savannah spent more and more time at my house. We took our first vacation together in 2007, flying to South Dakota to see Uncle Steve & Aunt Lori; in 2012, we returned to Sioux Falls to spend another week with my son and daughter-in-law but also so Savannah could resume her friendship with a neighbor girl, Elizabeth, with whom Savannah became acquainted in 2007. (Before planning the 2012 vacation, I gave her an option—the trip was to be a graduation present – did she want to go to South Dakota—or would she rather go to Hawaii? She chose South Dakota.

By this time my granddaughter had grown into a beautiful young lady, smart and pretty, warm and friendly; she had a host of boy and girl friends throughout the 4 years of high school. Sometimes we went clothes shopping and sometimes we went to the Barnes & Noble bookstore. These past two years, she’s had her driver’s license so she began chauffeuring me to and from some of my doctor or other medical related appointments.

As I type these words, she is with her father and mother, brother, and Auntie Sara, who are accompanying her to Sacramento, where she has an apartment waiting along with a new roommate-they left here this morning, a caravan – Savannah and her mother in Savannah’s car, her father and brother in her father’s pickup truck (loaded with a washer and dryer for the two girls) and her aunt driving her SUV. I doubt that I will see her until April, on spring break.
She came by this morning to say goodbye and tell me she loved me. I waited until she left to shed the tears I have been holding back for the past few days. Three months seems so far away – just as the three months leading up to this very day seemed a long way off.


Isn’t it amazing how fast by the years have flown,
From infancy to woman, just look how much you’ve grown;
From a little girl in pigtails who was learning how to read,
From toddler to teenager, we’ve watched you take the lead.
You were always Grandpa’s favorite, and he called you “Littlebit”
Because he knew you’d be outstanding in whatever life that fit –
I know he’d be proud of you, in whatever curves life throws you,
And would say it’s been a pleasure just for him to know and love you;
And I feel the very same way, as we watched your life unfold—
If you’d been a gymnast, you would always take the gold,
But where ever life may lead you, whether here or far away,
Remember that I love you, far more than I can ever say.
My girl is going to college—life won’t ever be the same–
Watch out world, she’s coming and Savannah is her name.

–Sandra Lee Smith (AKA GRAMMY), January 3, 2014


Five years ago, Bob and I went from roughly 3000 square feet of living space, most taken up with bookcases filled with books—part of this from a guest house Bob had converted into a library/office. Before we moved to the Antelope Valley, I gave away hundreds of books to the Burbank main branch library, filling my daughter in law’s SUV with boxes of books—not once but twice—and another time filling my sister’s SUV to overflowing. I gave away more than I can even remember—enough to donate a lot to my nephew’s Boy Scout rummage sale. We had acquired a lot in 19 years of living in the Arleta house.

After we moved and I began unpacking books, I donated another dozen boxes full to the Lancaster library for their biannual sales. I also gave bowls, dishes, cutlery and a collection of extra pots and pans to nieces and nephews as they branched out on their own with their first apartments.

I am telling this to you because I find myself again needing to downsize. When we moved five years ago, I made no attempt to give away or donate any of our Christmas trees, ornaments or other holiday decorations. In Arleta, we had Christmas trees up in every room of the house (except maybe the bathrooms) – we had two big trees on either side of the fireplace in the living room, a big tree on the front porch; smaller trees with a kitchen-y theme in the kitchen. It took about 3 weeks to get it all up and about a week to take it all down. And that was when Bob was alive and I had someone to put up and take down the trees and lights.

The first Christmas without him was 2011 and I really didn’t feel like doing any decorating. Did I make cookies? I don’t remember. But Kelly persisted and put one of the trees up in the living room, near the front door, and Ethan, on his own decided to get the Snow Village up and running in his grandpa’s memory. I think I was inspired enough to put up the small lighthouse tree that gets decorated with all lighthouse ornaments.

This year I began to feel the need to cut corners, do more downsizing. Now, I can’t imagine just throwing out or giving away many of the Christmas ornaments and decorations that fill – I kid you not – 24 large plastic bins from Walmart. But last year, after a penpal in Florida lost her home to a fire that took everything she owned including a collection of angels – I began searching through the ornaments and decorations for angels to send to her. I filled 3 boxes with angels and mailed them to my friend, who was thrilled to have new angels to replace what she lost. And then I began searching for bear ornaments to give to my penpal in Michigan – and sent a box or two of bears to her. It really hasn’t made much of a dent in the entire collection.

We put up just a 3 foot tree this year; Kelly strung some lights on it. Ethan put up the snow village. I brought in one of the plastic bins from Walmart and from it selected a couple dozen ornaments to go on that tree. I will be able to take down everything in less than an hour. It used to take us days. The downsizing is making me sad, in another way, opening the boxes and finding the ornaments that I have collected for fifty years. It was often like a treasure hunt, finding old but treasured ornaments that bring back memories….ornaments Becky and I found at a Christmas store in Carmel, California, for instance. I was paying for a felt boy kangaroo at that shop when the owner said “Oh, this one is nice but the girl kangaroo is much cuter—but it’s sold out”. I asked if she was getting more in and she said yes. I said can I order one in advance? Oh yes she said, and took my address. No, I didn’t need to pay for it until I got it. Sometime later, the girl kangaroo arrived in the mail with a note that I owed her $9.00.

Once when I asked a Christmas-themed store owner (possibly the one in San Francisco) if they accepted checks, she said “oh,sure”. I said some places won’t, when it’s out of town or out of state. She replied (and this has always stayed with me) “Not a problem. Christmas people don’t cheat.”

I have an ornament from Hawaii, a little glass ornament with water and sand from Hawaii inside. It reminds me of Faye, Bob and I going to Hawaii together and the fun we had. I have some ornaments from the Atlanta Georgia underground where there are shops – including a Christmas one – as well as ornaments from downtown Cincinnati which had a Christmas store at one time. I don’t know if its still there or not. Here’s the problem – who else on earth would evoke the same memories I have of when and where and how these small objects came into my possession?

Downsizing can be difficult. I have been trying to restore Bob’s secret garden which is filled with leaves and had to be propped up with two by fours by Kelly, to keep it from listing too much to one side. I finally put all the garden statuary of Bob’s into boxes until I can get the secret garden back in shape. And the more I think about it, much of the Christmas collection was more Bob’s doing than mine. He accepted whatever I loved and cared about and ran with it. (my ex never did). So, I find myself missing Bob more as I attempt to downsize.

Every so often I look through all the pots and pans and bowls and dishes and potato mashers and spatulas, wooden spoons and turkey basters, and ask myself How on earth did I ever end up with so much stuff?—and then the answer comes to me – when my girlfriend Mandy’s father passed away, no one wanted his “stuff” – I took as much as I could handle, loathe to let those things end up in a thrift shop. Then when Mandy died – it was the same thing—I took back all the cookbooks we bought together so that now I have two of a bunch of books—as well as some other things she treasured but her brother didn’t want. So, whenever I pick up a kitchen utensil that came from a friend’s kitchen, some trace of memory accompanies the object. They are not gone, not forgotten. Recently, I was able to buy Chef Szathmary’s two quart mixing bowl. I have to think about the Chef and his long illustrious career, any time I handle something that was his.

In October of 2000, my sister Barbara, four years older than I, was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2002, she began sending some of her collections of milk glass, blue and red glass and other things to various friends and family; I think she wanted to make sure that the things she treasured would be given good care in the hands of sons, grandchildren, sisters and friends.

No one said it would be easy, this business of downsizing. Some of my friends who are close in age to me are experiencing many of the same things; some have had serious health issues to contend with. (me, too, but I don’t want to think about that now) – in a poignant letter my Canadian penpal, Doreen, sent to me, she wrote in part, “I think the real issue about growing older is wanting to turn back the clock to when things ran smoother. No health issues and no family issues. Well, that is not likely, is it!”

She continues, “Living is all about moving forward, not putting moments of happiness under glass. I read the other day that life demands nothing from us except we give up everything we have ever loved. I think of my two beloved houses, my young children (who grew up) and the wonderful jobs I worked and the people I knew. Moving into a condo downsized 2/3 of my possessions; some more loved than others, and forced our lifestyle into a new way of living. Not a bad way. Just not what we once loved, a yard and flower garden and a tree house in the backyard for the grandchildren…”

She also wrote “All my entire world is changing and I am changing to live in the new world. I wish I could say the changes are for the better but I am not certain that they are…”

And I have to agree; I wish I could believe that the changes are for the better but I have a jaundiced opinion of the changes being forced upon me, upon all of us…so what does that have to do with downsizing? Is less better?

And even though I have wonderful memories of my four sons when they were little boys, I also know I am remembering those times through rose colored glasses—we often had little or no money and I had adopted the Mormon creed of keeping a year’s supply of food staples and bottled water on hand. My youngest son says now that the reason he hates spaghetti now is because we had it so often when he was a child. It was not until I returned to work full time in 1977 that we could afford better meals and the ability to do more as a family.

In about a week my oldest grandchild will be going off to college in Sacramento. She has been such an intricate part of my life ever since I moved to the Antelope Valley.

I am going to try to adopt Doreen’s last sentence in her letter, “Let’s stay strong and positive for whatever we meet day by day in 2014 and if we can’t adjust the situation we can always change our attitudes…” Less can be better. I’m working on it.

–Sandra Lee Smith, December 26, 2013