Vol. 10, No. 31

August 1-7, 2002

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Jean with grandson and eulogizer Eric Smith in earlier days.
Jean Smith
by Fairhaveners Sandra Martin, Eric Smith and Sonia Linebaugh

July 2002 has been hard on Fairhaven Cliffs, taking from us Jean Smith just 18 days after we’d lost Vern Gingell [Appreciation: Vol. X. No 29, July 18]. Hard on Bay Weekly as well, for both had shared their stories in our pages.

You wouldn’t have taken Jean for a storyteller. In her family, holding forth was like a favorite chair; that place belongs to her husband of 57 years, E.B., and no one else sat in it. You had to listen closely to hear her stories, and it took more than editorial persuasion to get her to write the one story she contributed to Bay Weekly, telling how a crippled vulture she’d adopted had become her friend. E.B. was Bay Weekly’s ally in that, gently twisting his beloved wife’s arm.

But as the vulture proved, if you listened, Jean had stories to tell.

When Grandma wanted us to nap — recalled one of her 10 grandchildren, 16-year-old Eric Smith, at her memorial service July 27 at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis — she used to play us a muffled cassette of “King Cole’s Birthday,” a tale soft as pillows’.

How it ended I don’t remember. I don’t think I ever stayed awake long enough to find out. But Grandma was our Mother Goose. She brought to us stories.

The women of Fairhaven learned how to listen quietly from Jean as well. The women of the neighborhood have sought one another’s company, finding commonalities made more savory by differences. Across generations, politics and style, two things united us: our wonderful luck in living in Fairhaven and our outspokenness. Not that we are rude or pushy, just willing to put quite a lot into words.

Jean’s apparent reticence, like her absorption in her family, seemed a barrier. The barrier loomed bigger because family lived all around her. In our community of 60 homes — many still summer homes — two of her four sons live with their families just up the hill.

After Jean’s first surgery to combat ovarian cancer, even they weren’t allowed to see her, so strong was her reticence.

Until she was alone with the girls. Then, at lunch or at the mailbox, Jean was one of us, winning affection with the easy friendship of people who are what they are. In our last lunch together, we laughed about ages — Jean’s was 78, though who could believe it — and hair colors.

Neighbor Annie Logan, who worked with Jean’s dark, undyed hair after the chemotherapy, is still tickled by a conversation over the flower border, where Jean spent much of her free time. This day, she was bemoaning how much the bugs had eaten. ‘Furry bugs four or five feet high,” advised another neighbor, Mike Passo. “Those are deer.”

There was a delightful wonder and innocence in this woman who had served in the Women’s Coast Guard in World War II and traveled oceans with her scholar-raconteur husband both on their own sailboats and on cruise ships that sought him out as a lecturer. She has also raised five children and taught grade school.

Jean had not a drop of pretention. That innocence was the subject of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin — a former student of E.B.’s who had his own political aspirations — who came to Annapolis to remember Jean.

“E.B. ran LBJ’s presidential campaign in Iowa,” Harkin recalled. “After the election, he and Jean were invited to the White House, and Lady Bird made a fuss over Jean’s dress, asking where she had gotten it. ‘Sears,’ was Jean’s reply.”

Jean was snatched from us by recurrent cancer on July 20, 2002.

Now, as Eric said of his Grandma, we keep our neighbor, friend and contributor within us. So when we celebrate her, we celebrate a part of ourselves. A part that serves. A part that is patient. A part that loves.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly