Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2017

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The lesson of a life well-lived

Rachel Smith was a very quiet woman — unless you were her husband, Arnold.

Mostly, though, she just smiled and hugged and kissed those around her whom she loved very much. I was one of the very fortunate people to have known her and received that loving bounty for more than 42 years. There were others, of course, especially her two daughters, Myra and Madeline.

Myra is my dear wife, which makes Rachel her mother and my mother-in-law. On Tuesday, Election Day, Grandma Rachel elected to do what she had wanted to do ever since her dear Arnold died a little more than a year ago. I am certain she willed her incredible heart to stop beating just a few days short of her 88th birthday so she could join Arnold in what she believed would be a much better place.

In so many ways, Rachel was a typical mother and housewife of her generation. She was wedded to her husband and unyieldingly attached to her children, grandchildren and her beautiful great-grandchildren. Her family was her world, and it was the only world she ever wanted or really cared about.

In the end, though, it was evident to all who loved her that she wanted to be someplace else, where she felt safe, where she felt at home. And that was with the man she had married 65 years ago. I am pretty sure Myra’s father wasn’t that anxious to see her, at least not this soon. While he loved her dearly, there was a certain peace and quiet that came to him that he probably wanted to enjoy for just a bit longer!

Rachel was one of the kindest people I have ever known. Her difficult childhood, growing up in Mexico City and fighting every day as a young girl to help support her mother in their newly adopted country, the United States, informed her life as an adult and made her an extraordinarily loving and giving person.

She was always at her best when her kids — especially her granddaughters — were at her side. And she made sure during their formative years that they were constantly at her side. Whether traveling around the world or around the corner, Rachel was the proverbial mother hen. And dare anyone try to harm or mistreat her children, there would be hell to pay.

Most of the time, though, there was a quiet contentment that my other mom enjoyed that allowed her to give center stage in life to her husband and family. She didn’t need accolades or the honors that had been earned by the Smith family throughout their lives in Phoenix. All she needed was to know that her husband and children were happy and healthy. In many ways, she was the stereotypical housewife of the 1950s, without all the drama.

But she did have her weaknesses. She loved me as much as any mother could love a son. And in return, I loved her right back. She also enjoyed it when her name appeared from time to time in the newspaper, especially the Sun. She always knew when that happened that it would be about something good and not the normal things people fear about seeing their names in the daily newspaper.

I will never forget when my beautiful Amy was born. She was Arnold and Rachel’s first grandchild, and they were on a plane from Phoenix the minute I called to tell them we were getting close to that miraculous moment.

My father, who could write with the best of them, if not better, wrote in his Where I Stand column about his newest grandchild. In doing so, he described the maternal grandparents thusly:

“Of course an experienced grandparent can be a calming influence on one who is becoming a grandmother for the first time.

“When the maternal grandparents, the Arnold Smiths, arrived by plane from Phoenix, breathless and expectant, the new grandmother had to step high to keep out of the deep puddles formed by the sudden downpour.

“It didn’t dampen her spirits a bit because it appeared she didn’t even know she was off the plane, so intense was her excitement. She did take the time, however, to repeat an old-world saying (Rachel was fluent in Yiddish) that it is lucky for a child to be born in a heavy rain.”

My father went on to extoll the many virtues of being a grandparent, all of which Rachel lived to enjoy as she read and re-read that column as confirmation of one of her proudest achievements in life, the birth of her grandchild.

As time went on, I would write a Mother’s Day column every year, and God help me if I didn’t wish my dear mother-in-law the best of the day. That happened once. After Rachel was through with me, it never happened again.

For some reason, I missed last Mother’s Day, but I told her I would make it up to her. Naturally, life got in the way and until today, I never managed to rectify that mistake of neglecting the one day that was so important to Rachel Smith. It was important because it represented everything that was significant in her life — being a mother. And, boy, was she a great one.

So we will be in Phoenix today, burying her next to her beloved Arnold, where they will go on for eternity, each letting the other know what is on their minds.

As for the rest of us? Myra and Madeline will live the legacy their mother has left them. It is a simple one: Love your family above all else and without qualification. Amy and her cousin, Alexandra, will teach that lesson to their beautiful children so that one day they will teach it to theirs. And the world will be a better place.

As for me? I will miss that sweet little lady who loved me unconditionally. And I will tell her that in the only way I really know. I will write it in a column dedicated completely to her.

Rest well, Grandma Rachel. We all love you very much.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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