This column is in honor of my mother, Margaret Copeland Vought Smith, who died at age 90 on Dec. 11.
We didn't spend much time together after I moved to Maryland following college in 1971. In fact, the last time we did anything together away from her own home was around 1994, when my mother and my wife and I had lunch together in Havre de Grace one afternoon.
At the time, my mother was recently widowed from her second husband and was preparing to move to a continuing care community in Pennsylvania where she would live the rest of her life. She was still driving then and met us at the Tidewater Grille for lunch. My wife, Louise, and I liked to spend time in Havre de Grace, and this seemed like an ideal meeting place between her home and ours.
We had a pleasant lunch on what I recall was a sunny day. Later, my wife left in her car to drive back to our home in Fallston, and I showed my mother around Havre de Grace, making stops at the Decoy Museum and the lighthouse and pointing out to her some of the other places of note. I recall her telling me she thought Havre de Grace was a wonderful town and I was lucky to be able to work there. Our final stop was the old Record office on St. John Street, and I think she was definitely impressed to see I had an office (albeit a rather occasional one) just a long block from the riverfront and with a view of bridges she and I often crossed on family trips.
In the ensuing years, we wrote each other often but, as if by some unwritten arrangement that had begun years earlier, we did not see each other very much, even though the physical distance between us was not great, maybe 75 miles. We had had a difficult relationship, one that it's not my purpose to analyze in this column. It's just the way it became, and we reluctantly accepted it, because I think we understood that no matter how it appeared to others, a more or less permanent degree of separation was probably best for both of us.
There were times, however, like the one in Havre de Grace, that will always be meaningful for me, and I hope they were for her. The day she died, a Sunday, I couldn't help but think about many of the times when I was small and we visited her parents' home in the Woodley Park neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., the same rowhouse where my mother was born and lived until after she married my father, whom she met when they both attended nearby George Washington University in the early 1940s.
My mother's old elementary school was about two blocks from her home, and we often walked hand-in-hand to the school playground, me always asking why the school had such a funny name, Oyster School, and refusing to understand that Oyster (James F.) was actually a person, not a shellfish, a prominent citizen who had once been a school board president. "It's a funny name for a school," I usually said. "Were you called the pearls, or the shells?"
At the playground, I loved to play on the jungle gym and the swings and have her push me higher and higher. It reminds me of my first book, one I'm sure many mothers bought their children in the first half of the last century, the highly illustrated collection of poems, "A Child's Garden of Verses," by Robert Louis Stevenson.
In remembrance of my mother and of those times, the poem goes…
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
Thank you so much, Mother.