324. The Girl Who Made a Scene

Before we get started, please remember to vote for my “Grandmother Dearest” essay.  You can vote every day from now till August 10th.  Having got started in the contest 7 weeks late, I’m trying to drum up some votes to help mine be among the top 100 semi-finalists.  It may be too little too late, but please vote today, and EVERY day, and I will be in your eternal debt.  Otherwise, I’m going to have to come over there and break both your legs.

Voting for it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s painless.  Just click here to do the deed. Otherwise, it’s crutches for you, kid.

With that out of the way, let’s begin today’s blob.

One day, when my granddaughter Elizabeth was almost five years old, she had a bad cold and an irritated red nose.

“Grandma, can I have a handkerchief?” she asked.

“Sure, Elizabeth”, I said, getting up.

As I headed for the bathroom, she called after me with a plaintive request:  “But, Grandma, not a handkerchief that’s made out of toilet paper.  One that’s made out of clothes”.

That’s Elizabeth.  Ever the discerning trend-setter.  I always figured toilet paper was just as good as Kleenex, and the price was right.  But handkerchiefs made out of clothes – now we’re talkin’ class. After that, I always sheepishly made sure we had plenty of real cloth hankies around.

She always had (and still has) impeccable logic. More or less. when in first grade one time, after spending the night with us, Elizabeth, came downstairs.  “What time is it, Grandma?” she asked. 

“It’s 8 o’clock, Elizabeth.”

“Oh, it can’t be 8 o’clock”, she said, puzzled. “It must be 7 o’clock.”

“No,” I said, “It’s really 8 o’clock.”

“But, Grandma,” she insisted, “I always get up at 7 o’clock.”

“Not today, though, Elizabeth”, I said, “You slept later, and now it’s 8 o’clock.”

“Well” she announced, glaring at the clock with stern disapproval. “It SHOULD be 7 o’clock!”

Elizabeth Amy (Warden) Smith is celebrating her 32nd birthday today.  She’s been an avid reader since she was five years old, and today, she is – no contest – the best-read bibliophile in our family.  I think she must read about 100 books per year.  If so, in the 27 years since she started reading, she’s probably read 2,700 books. That’s quite a few words.

Elizabeth graduated with honors from Whitman College here in Washington, and then got her master’s degree at U.C. Davis in California.  It won’t surprise you to know that her “specialty” is English literature. Or that her professional work since entering the workforce has always been as a wordsmith in the literary field.

Somehow, she found time to get married to Sean Smith. (Click here to read about him.) They live here in Seattle – in the Ballard neighborhood.  Thank goodness for that,  because wherever Elizabeth lives is where all the rest of us want to live, too.  Thanks to her gentle charisma and generosity of spirit, she is to the rest of us “the gift that keeps on giving”. 

Sean and Elizabeth work in buildings not too far apart.  Sean works in the computer world, and actually, so does Elizabeth. She’s the curriculum development manager at Giant Campus, an organization that authors and programs interactive educational courses for high school students.

One of my most vivid memories of Elizabeth will always be an incident that happened when she was about four years old.  

I need to preface this story by explaining that in our family we love “floor shows”.  We don’t do them as much now as when the kids were younger, but it used to be that you couldn’t come to a family gathering without being prepared to “DO” something. During the floor show – adult or child – you were expected to sing a song, dance a jig, tell a story or a joke, read a poem, direct a skit, or just generally make a fool of yourself. At the conclusion of your act, no matter how inane it was –  you would be rewarded with unmitigated applause, loud cheering and much foot stomping.

And so it was, I suppose, that 4 year-old Elizabeth was kind of pre-programmed for what occurred at St. Bridget’s Church one Sunday morning.

She came to Mass with my husband Gene and me, and, as usual, we sat on the right side of the sanctuary, up near the front.  The singer at the 10:30 a.m. Mass was a woman who led the congregation in singing the hymns, and who occasionally sang a solo.  What she may have lacked in virtuosity or self-assurance, she made up for in what was obviously the time and care she had taken in choosing and practicing the songs and then performing them devoutly.

During the Offertory, she went to the microphone, and proceeded to sing the “Ave Maria”.  It was definitely the best she had ever sung.  As the last chord faded, she started to return to her seat, when suddenly little Elizabeth leaped to her feet, wildly clapping her hands and, loudly, she yelled a prolonged “Ya-a-a-ay!”  

For a moment, the congregation sat in stunned silence, and then erupted in laughter. They were charmed and elated, but Elizabeth didn’t understand.  Mortified and confused, she retreated to climb up on Grandpa’s lap. I was still giggling myself when I noticed the face of the singer.  Blushing, her face wreathed in a radiant smile, she was walking to her seat looking at Elizabeth. And her gaze was one of genuine gratitude.

It kind of took my breath away.  No one who witnessed that exchange between the two of them could have mistaken how much the child’s spontaneous – and public – appreciation meant to the woman.  I still wonder if it may have been the first time it occurred to any of us who sat there every Sunday that maybe we should sometimes express appreciation for the singer’s faithful performance, or her hours of preparation and practicing.

Little Elizabeth taught us all a very good lesson that morning.  And it’s nice that the grown-up work she does today is still teaching good lessons to the world.

Have a happy day, Elizabeth!  And please keep cheering us on!

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6 Responses to 324. The Girl Who Made a Scene

  1. A relative says:

    Happy Birthday darling daughter! Octo-woman got this blob right on today. You have not really changed so much from that 4 year old little person in Grandpa’s lap years ago. You were always looking out for Gretchen and Neil and Josie and supporting and encouraging them throughout all kinds of adventures. Remember rescuing Gretchen from the tree and helping Neil learn to read and “talking em guys” with Josie for hours on end? You were the best, big sister ever. You are still cheering them on today and you are such a sweet, supportive and loving daughter. How did we get so lucky? I hope you have the best birthday ever relaxing at the cabin with Sean and Lilly and your two mischievous kitties. I love you.
    Mother

  2. Joan Fitzpatrick says:

    Happy Birthday Sweet Elizabeth !!!

    How we did enjoy the performances of the children. We always looked forward to them when we came to visit.

  3. Gail Trevathan says:

    Happy Birthday Elizabeth. Tom and I are so proud of you and love you very much. I can still remember your sweet laugh when you were very little and I was staying with your parents because I had broken my arm. Everytime you saw that funny looking cast, you would burst out in laughter. My day was always brighter because of your smiling face. Now you are a grown, beautiful, woman who still brings sunshine whenever she comes into a room. Never forget how much you are loved.

  4. Josie says:

    Happy Birthday Elizabeth!
    You are an amazing sister and one of the best friends out there! I still appreciate all of those games of talk em guys, shells, rocks, etc. Oh and the pokemon fashion shows haha I can’t wait to celebrate our birthdays together and get our tattoos. I love you so so so much!
    P.S.
    I have no bones, only sticks, thunks

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Wow, thank you so much everybody! Grandma, I didn’t know those stories–thank you!

  6. Chris says:

    Happy Birthday, Elizabeth. When we came to Seattle in ’88 we were able to enjoy a few of the family “floor shows”! I still have fond memories of sitting in your front yard as part of the audience. I was fascinated to listen and watch as you organized with your siblings. My Corey was 11 that summer and one of his ‘pasttimes’ was making a running dash toward a tree trunk and walking up as far as he could. Neil named him ‘treewalker’! Fun memories.

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