Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sister Smith

I'd like to introduce you to Shirley Andelin Smith, well to me it was always Sister Smith. Sister Smith passed away last week at the age of 86. Sister Smith is the mother of a family I was close to in my youth. In the mid 60's the Smith family moved into my family's ward in Long Beach. Sister Smith's husband was a physician. He was our hometeacher for awhile. He was unassuming, funny and he was really kind. I remember how much Sister Smith loved telling stories about Dr. Smith, particularly when they were first married. I could tell she really loved him.
Dr. Smith worked in a clinic, and I remember that he was well known for
being generous treating patients that couldn't afford treatment. When I posted Sister Smith's obituary on Facebook, many recalled being treated at Dr. Smith's home in the evenings and on Saturdays. One night at 10:30 he stitched me up at their home after a basketball game.
There were 7 kids in the family. The older 4 I didn't know as well. That left Mary, and her brothers Thayne and Toni. Mary was a year older than I was and went to a different high school. There was something about Mary, haha, and we became friends. She was an accomplished student and her testimony was very strong. Even at such a young age she was as the Apostle Paul described 'grounded, rooted, and settled' in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was probably 16 at the time. We would just hangout, sometimes doing silly dumb things, like see how many pieces of double bubble gum we could chew at once while driving around in my Volkswagen. If she was going to be at church for any reason, I would make sure I was there as well. I remember attending BYU Education Week classes with Mary at our ward building. For several days once a summer, BYU faculty would teach classes on various gospel subjects. I recall sitting on the front row with Mary listening to Truman Madsen.
Mary and her family were a positive influence in my life at a critical time. My friends were mostly basketball players at school and a lot of my church friends were pushing past some of the boundaries of obedience. I remember telling Mary that I was rushing a fraternity at my high school. She said, ' Well that's a dumb thing to do.' I realized she was right and as soon as I was accepted, I quit.
One day I'm at their house and I think it was Toni that suggested I go on their family vacation to West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone is near Idaho Falls, which is where the Smith's were from. So I went along.
It couldn't have been more than a few days when Thayne asked me if I would like to go fishing with he and his Dad on the nearby Madison River. I decided that I would rather go with Mary and her cousins to the lake so I didn't go fishing.
At the end of the day Mary and I, and some of her cousins decided to go into West Yellowstone. Mary was driving and I was in the other front seat. As we were driving along a dirt road, we saw an unknown truck approaching us from the opposite direction, it started to slow down and then stop. Thayne rushed out, waving his arms, exclaiming that their father Dr. Smith, had slipped and somehow his fishing waders had filled with water and the strong current pulled him under and downriver, all while poor Thayne at a distance could only watch. This wonderful man, the father of this very special family was gone.
I won't try to describe the scene. It was horrible. I was asked to take over for Mary and drive the truck back to the house. I made a U turn, but I miscalculated and ran the truck into the ditch running along the road breaking the front axle. I'm sure I was in shock, but I had made the situation worse. It was so heartbreaking to see each family member react to the fact that Dr. Smith had drowned.
I had never witnessed the unexpected loss of a loved one and wouldn't again until I would lose Marianne.
My parents wanted to attend the funeral so I stayed with the Smith's while they made those preparations. The funeral was an outpouring of love and affection for Dr. Smith and his family. Afterwards, Mary accompanied us to the airport. As we said goodbye I could sense her pain and heartbreak.
For a long time I felt that I had let Mary and her Mom down by not going fishing that day with Dr. Smith. I think Thayne had mentioned that things might have turned out different if I had been there. But I have since learned that with His faithful, Heavenly Father is in control.
Things were different after that. The Smith's moved away. When I went to BYU my freshman year I would see them from time to time. I took a class with Mary and I would see Sister Smith in the BYU bookstore. I remember thinking then that Sister Smith would never remarry.
When I went on my mission they were kind enough to come to the Salt Lake airport to see me off. I got a couple of letters from Mary and soon she announced that she was engaged to be married.
Mary had taught me what a wonderful thing it was to associate with a virtuous young woman. I think Heavenly Father and even ministering angels lead and guide us into situations that help prepare us. I would not have known how to get close to your Mom without my friendship with Mary.
When I came home from my mission after a couple of summer months I went back to BYU and I went to visit Sister Smith and Mary. I remember Mary and I went for a walk and she asked me if I was planning on dating a mutual friend. I told her that we had done a few things over the summer and that she was coming up to visit. Somehow Mary knew to give me some good advice. When she arrived I went to pick her up at her friends apartment and sitting at the kitchen table was Marianne Sant, who was also visiting. I didn't notice her since she was wearing curlers and a robe, but she later told me that she told her friends at that table 'why can't I date a guy like that.'
I would get another chance with your Mom a month or so later at a Thanksgiving dance in Long Beach where I would ask her to dance the last dance. The rest of that story I think you know.
Back to the present. Last week I noticed that Thayne had made a posting on Facebook that his mother had passed away. I searched online and found her obituary. It was great to see her face. My first thought was that she and Dr. Smith were together again. Since then I have been contemplating my own experiences with the Smiths all those years ago, and since then the Smith family has grown by 55 grandchildren and 135 great grandchildren. Mary and her husband Charlie have 12 children of their own, how many grand children I can only guess.
As soon as I found out, I called my parents and Kevin. My parents attended the viewing and were able to visit with many of Sister Smith's family. Kevin attended the funeral. My Dad was their Bishop for a good part of the time they were in Long Beach. I think both my parents and the Smith's really enjoyed being together. My parents told me afterwards how much Mary reminded them of Marianne, which caused me to smile. I wasn't able to attend, but my parents sent me some pictures which I saw this morning. It was good to see their faces again.

Can't wait till were all together again next week.




Julia Holmes said...

Oh dad,I love you so much. Thanks for sharing that story. I love learning more about you and your past. I am at work trying really hard not to lose it. I am so grateful for you and for a loving heavenly father.

DAD said...

I love you too.

Katherine said...

I am grateful for the Smith family and the wonderful influence they had on you, both Mary and her family. I remember hearing about Mary when I was very young and what a wonderful person she is. I wish I knew them- they sound like wonderful people! I'm happy thinking of Dr. and Sis Smith together again. I also liked hearing again about the dance where you met and the first time MOm laid eyes on you. It's fun to picture her in a robe with curlers in her hair. Love you Dad!