Dorothy Marie Smith. Mimi, to me. Today is her birthday. She would be 108 years old today!
She lived to be 99 and was fiercely independent taking care of her own home and affairs up until the last few weeks of her life. At a meagre 4 feet 11 inches tall she was quite a force to be reckoned with. Born and raised in Chicago in the early 20th century she brought her lifelong love of the Cubs with her when she moved south. Her own mother died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 when she was only 8 years old leaving behind a husband and two small girls, Dorothy and Hazel. Dorothy had only a single gift from her mother, a white ceramic child’s tea set. Dorothy’s strongest memory of her mother Mary was of holding hands with one another as they walked to church on Sundays. It may have been her only memory of Mary. At least it’s the only one she ever shared with me. The rest of Dorothy’s early life was spent mostly in the care of the Episcopal nuns who ran the school which she attended. She and her sister may have boarded there as well. I’m not certain of that though.Dorothy was a bright student who worked hard at her school work without the aid of either computers or google! She was accepted to Northwestern University to study journalism at a time when that was not easily accessible to women. Wow! That is amazing to me. What an opportunity that must have been. But, how frightening as well. I’m sure it wasn’t a role that society approved of for her in the early 20’s in Chicago. Her teacher was very disappointed that she dropped out and didn’t see it through. It was love of course. Blume Joseph Rasch brought her to Louisiana where his large family of parents, brothers and sisters lived. Dorothy and Blume had 2 girls and a boy. She outlived two of her children. How often I heard her say that the pain of losing a child is something a mother never gets over. I’m not sure when or how they moved to Texas. But at some point in the 1940’s they set up housekeeping in Houston. For a while she earned a living by running “The Store” as I used to hear it. Mrs. Rasch’s Variety Store! It was within walking distance of their house and had exactly what the name implies, variety. She sold everything from fabric on the bolt,to bric a brac and household goods. I don’t think she dealt in groceries at all but outside of that Mrs. Rasch’s carried a little bit of everything. Eventually the shop closed up and Blume left Dorothy. The timing of those two parts of her life is less than clear to me. So many things she just didn’t talk about. She may not have told many stories about her life but she certainly knew how to keep it all going. Mimi was a very talented seamstress as well. As long as I can remember women came to her home for both alterations and original creations. For a while she even sewed a line of dresses for little girls for Neiman Marcus under the label of Sugar Plum Originals. I wonder from time to time if any of those dresses are still around, perhaps tucked away in a cedar chest of memories. Mimi never learned to drive and was rather content with that state of affairs. She managed well and knew how to keep a house stocked against whatever might come. Raising children through the depression and later on her own brought out both ingenuity and frugality, qualities that she never lost. She was good with children. She would get right down on the floor with me to play. And, I always had a warm winter coat because of her. She taught me to hang clothes on a line, something that I still love to do in this age of dryers. A dryer will wear your clothes out faster than anything else. I know how to put in a zipper the right way thanks to her. Patterns will tell you otherwise, but a zipper should almost always be installed when a garment is still in the flat stage. At my Mimi’s house there was always sweet tea in the fridge and a swing in the backyard. Sometimes a swing is the place to talk about everything and sometimes it’s a place to simply take comfort in the quiet of being with someone you love. Of all the many things that Mimi excelled at cooking was never really at the top of that list. Don’t get me wrong. Her kitchen was open and she made certain that anything on either two legs or four had a full tummy. But when it comes to food my thoughts turn to one single item…lemon pound cake with citrus glaze. It was her go to cake for any occasion. I have more than one handwritten copy of her recipe that she shared with me over the years. As time moved on she would forget that she had already given it to me. That’s ok. I’m happy to have multiple copies. One day I’ll pass them along myself. Perhaps I’ll even frame them first. I wonder if that’s why I love the taste of lemon and the smell of citrus in almost any form. Now plants, that’s another story altogether. She was a wiz with all things green. Her azaleas grew so big that she was unable to mulch them from the front. So, she would move aside the furniture in the living room, open the windows and bring her pine needles through the house dumping them out the open window and onto the tender roots of her azaleas. Azalea roots are shallow and so need plenty of care and shade. Mimi’s last husband struggled with alcoholism early in their marriage and was abusive to her both physically and verbally. She would call my mother who would take me with her over to the house to be with Mimi and take her to see a doctor if necessary. He gave up drinking and became a gentle bear of a man who loved Mimi and gave her anything and everything never hurting her again I’m happy to say. Dorothy was strong willed to say the least. Once she was taking me fishing and told me that I needed to wear a hat. Now I know she was right. At the time however, I had no desire to wear a hat. She kept on and finally looked me in the eye and proclaimed me to be stubborn. I have no idea what came over me ( I was a fantastically quiet and shy child) but I looked back at her and said – stubborn just like my Mimi. I guess I rendered her speechless for a moment because I don’t remember anything after that except that I indeed took the hat with me to go fishing. Life is lived so differently from one person to the next. I respect and admire cultures that value all ages of life and not just the young. There is a richness that derives from experience. To get up each morning and face the day ahead offers opportunity, a new chance to learn and to love. I myself have been blessed with more mornings than some people and fewer than others. I love the stories of those who have lived more days than me! They fill me with awe and hope and even laughter. I’m grateful to have so many stories of Dorothy Marie. I’m proud to share her name. Marie is my middle name also. I could sit here and write about her all afternoon. Instead I think I’ll bring some flowers in from the yard and situate them in a mason jar. Then…I’ll bake up her lemon pound cake with citrus glaze and enjoy a glass of sweet tea in my backyard swing. Happy Birthday Mimi!