Friday, October 8, 2010


In August, when Paige's grandmother died, we lost the last living grandparent either of us had. Martha Smith was a grand lady. She kept house, home and three daughters together during her husband George's Navy career. Growing up, my mother-in-law moved 18 times before leaving home (a record that makes my traumatic childhood of 7 Salvation Army moves sound amateur). Her ability to maintain a lovely home while on the move that much really impresses me. By the time I met her, when I was in college, she was a playful grand dame who loved to dance and play tennis and was never without a book. When dining out with her, we all knew she would order a perfect Manhattan on the rocks with an olive and a glass of ice on the side; she would spoon the extra ice cubes into the drink in a slow rhythm to dilute it, talking and laughing and enjoying (enduring?) George's madcap personality

When "Mama" passed, our kids lost their last great grandparent. I never had any living great grandparents; they had 3 until two years ago and one until they were 8 and 4. Charlie is named for Martha's father, Charles Mathis.

Of all that happened in a weekend of family memorial gathering late last month, I suspect I'll remember one moment the most. The priest led us outside after a short service. We processed around one end of the church to a memorial garden in the church yard with the urn of Mama's ashes. After a short liturgy and the recitation of a poem by Paige's cousin, Mama's daughters took turns spreading some of her ashes. The sheer physicality of it surprised me; it's always so graceful and ethereal in the movies. These ashes required a few healthy whomps on the bottom of the urn to free up clumps. Next, Paige's brother and cousins took turns, one representative from each family in their generation. Realizing that Charlie was the oldest great grandchild present, I whispered "Do you want to spread some?" He immediately answered that he did.

Paige accompanied him to step forward and take the urn. With an appropriate seriousness, he followed in the footsteps of his uncle and second cousins and grandmother and great aunts, spreading his great grandmother's ashes. Charlie is a sentimental person who loves all the branches of his family very deeply. It made me proud and happy to see him so ready and willing to participate in an irreplaceable ritual.

In fond memory of Martha Mathis Smith, 1923-2010


Jacksons said...

Beautiful Jeff. Thanks for writing that.

Lauren Jackson said...

I'm so thankful to be able to read your account of Mama's funeral and of your own memories and tribute to her. Thank you.

Anne H. said...

I just found this late last night. Thank you so much for the photos and your thoughts about Mama. It's touching and very well done. Yes, seeing Charlie so competently and seriously spreading Mom's ashes was an amazing thing. We are all richly blessed by our family. That family is somewhat different for each of us but whatever our individual place in it, we're blessed!

And I miss Mom. It's hard to believe I can never talk to her again. I remember, years ago, her saying that about her father after he had died. It's a powerful realization.