WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE LIGHTHOUSE

We always lived in the lighthouse.

Where my daddy was the lighthouse keeper,

And though times were tough

And we didn’t have any close-by neighbors,

There was always enough to eat,

For daddy was a fisherman too,

And could catch something for mama to fry

For supper,

To go with cornbread muffins.

We had clams and shrimp and oysters,

And even lobster a-plenty

And even had seafood for breakfast.

It was daddy’s job to light the lanterns

At the top of the lighthouse,

Where the Fresnel lens reflected the lantern light,

And made it brighter and stronger,

Able to reach far out on the ocean;

My daddy took this job seriously,

And we were a happy little family,

Living in the little house alongside

The lighthouse.

Until one day someone

From the coast guard came to visit daddy

And said they no longer would need

A lighthouse keeper,

Because the lighthouses were “going electric”.

**

We didn’t quite know what this meant, “going electric”,

But we understood that daddy no longer had a job,

Mama cried, and I cried, and baby brother cried too,

But baby didn’t know why, he just cried because

We were crying.

Daddy said now, mama, don’t you fret,

I’ll think of something,

But you know, times were bad

And jobs were hard to come by,

Eventually, mama took baby and me

And we got on a bus that took us a long ways away,

To a farm in a town in Missouri,

Where my grammy and grandpa lived

And where mama came from,

And sometimes said she never planned to go back to,

But here was plenty to eat and milk to drink from the cow,

So baby and I never went hungry,

But you know, they never

Had clams or shrimp or oysters or lobster,

Out here in Missouri,

Only beef and pork.

I never did learn if daddy

Had thought of something.

We never saw him again.

**

For Becky, because we loved lighthouses.—Sandra Lee Smith

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted April 19, 2009

Updated October 20, 2018

A RENAISSANCE WOMAN

“A RENAISSANCE WOMAN” – “A highly cultivated man (or woman) who is skilled and well versed in many fields of knowledge, work, etc., as in the arts and sciences” – Websters New World College Dictionary”

She was a Renaissance woman

if ever there was one; beautiful,

blond-hair and blue eyes–she could

have been royalty–she carried herself

with regal ease.

Her father was enchanted with her tiny

features and winsome ways. “She’s just

a little doll” he said. “We can call her

Dolly” and so they did.

She took classes once her children were

grown–her specialty was art–oils, charcoal,

she could draw or paint–whatever captivated

her attention.

She wanted to be able to cook the dishes and

desserts that her mother-in-law (my grandmother)

created;  None of those recipes were written down

anywhere; they were all in Grandma’s head.

So, in order to learn, Aunt Dolly–a teenager

at the time–stood at Grandma’s elbow every time

she set out to cook or bake–until the knew them all.

Aunt Dolly became our link between

a grandmother who passed away too soon–

but left behind a legacy of recipes that my

aunt was now skilled at preparing.

I hardly knew Aunt Dolly when I was growing up and

had moved to California when I was twenty-one, – but

I came to appreciate her wit, talent, creativity and

enormous vitality–along with her wonderful gentle laughter’

When I became an adult and my children were grown,

I was able to visit my aunt & uncle’s home on North

Bend Road many times, often with my sister, Becky,

other times with my brother, Bill, and a few times

on my own. (We all adored their home!)

She was the kind of aunt you wanted to have

all to yourself.  I think my siblings and I appreciated

Aunt Dolly more than anyone else and my brothers

(and nephew, Barry) loved to tease her to get her to giggle.

 

When Aunt Dolly was recuperating from spinal

surgery in 2005, I was able to go “take care” of

her for a couple of weeks–and some years later,

in 2012, I was able to go again to her home in

Port Orange, where she had been relocated,

and cook and bake for her.  My visit to Florida

in July, 2012 would be the last time I had the

opportunity to spend with this one-of-a-kind

aunt. By now, I was the cook and I enjoyed

cooking and baking for her.

Throughout my house there are some of

my aunt’s paintings (she was a spectacularly

gifted artist) which I love but the one that I love

the most is a painting of my paternal grand-

mother, Susanna Gengler Schmidt, that Aunt

Dolly copied from an old professional

photograph of my grandmother at a young age.

We think Grandma might have been about

25 or 26 years old at the time that photograph

was taken.

As I was preparing to return to California

in 2005 after my two week visit, my aunt

asked me if I liked that painting of my grandmother.

I replied. ” I love it–it’s one of your best paintings”

Aunt Dolly then asked if I would like to have it.

Like my aunt, the painting of Grandma Schmidt is one of a kind ;

it hangs over my fireplace in Quartz Hill.

My aunt also painted many different lighthouse related

-featuring- small- children canvasses. At one time, Aunt

Dolly would go to New York city with an assortment of her

paintings, to peddle her wares.

One time, when Becky and I were visiting our aunt,

we were out in her studio, admiring the many canvasses

and I said “Aunt Dolly, do you still go to New York

once a year to sell your paintings?”

My aunt giggled in a way only she could–her response?

“Oh, no, Sandy–now they come to me.”

There was one time when my aunt came to visit us

in California, and Bob & I took her north, to some

antique stores, but also to a huge park in Santa Barbara;

we couldn’t keep up with Auntie.  She was a bundle

of energy and could outwalk any of us–while carrying

a gallon bottle of purified water!

There were so many other stories and events in my aunt

and uncle’s lives that would be impossible to do justice

without writing a book about them.  To all of us they

were “Aunt Dolly and Uncle Hans” and dearly loved

by all of us–but I have often thought how much she

was “a Renaissance Woman”.

Aunt Dolly’s professional name was Evelyn Neumeister-

Schmidt -but to all the nieces and nephews she was

always just “Aunt Dolly”.

Aunt Dolly left this world to rejoin her husband, Hans, in January of 2013.

Sandra Lee smith

First compiled February 2015; updated July 24, 2018

LIVING IN A LIGHTHOUSE

We lived in a lighthouse

Overlooking the sea,

There was papa and mama

My brother and me;

We had an old dog named Shep

And a tame parakeet,

It was a very fine life

For my brother and me.

Papa worked hard,

He was the sole lighthouse keeper,

Mama made all our clothes,

‘Cause she said it was cheaper;

Mama taught us to read

To add and subtract,

We were too far from school,

And that was a fact.

Papa climbed up the steps

Every night of our lives,

To light up the wicks

So that sailors survived

For the rocks in the ocean

Were brutal and deep,

And under our lighthouse,

Was a cliff deadly and steep;

Papa put up a fence

So we wouldn’t fall down,

It was a very fine lighthouse

The best to be found,

Once a month papa took mama

Into town in our truck,

She bought a few groceries

We were down on our luck

So there never was candy,

We seldom had meat.

(I once had an orange,

It was a mighty fine treat);

Papa fished in the ocean,

We had biscuits and jelly,

And mama made cornbread,

We always had a full belly,

And then came a time,

When a man came from town;

He was a stranger

And not from around;

He gave papa a paper

And here’s what it said,

The lighthouse was going

Electric instead,

So papa no longer,

Would be lighthouse keeper,

We thought we would move,

But staying was cheaper,

We hid in the lighthouse,

Whenever we saw

Strangers approaching,

It was not hard at all;

Papa kept his old truck

Down in the woods,

They never bought staples,

If only they could.

We ran out of cornmeal,

And flour and such,

We lived off the ocean,

There never was much;

Then mama took sick,

And one day she died;

It was the onliest time

That I saw papa cry;

He took us to town

To an orphan asylum,

He drove off with Shep,

And I’m not lying;

He opened the cage

And the parakeet flew

Off in the sky;

Where, nobody knew,

My brother and me

Went to live with a farmer

And learned to do chores;

We were children no longer.

–Sandra Lee Smith

originally written in 2010; updated 2018.

 

It may seem I am overly fascinated with the lives of those who lived in lighthouses ; my sister Becky & I began to collect lighthouse memorabilia in the early 1980s when we drove up the California coast and discovered that—for whatever reason—we were both fascinated with lighthouses. I often wondered what became of all those families who lived in the lighthouses before they became automated with electricity. We grew up in the southern part of Ohio (no lighthouses) but I was stunned to learn that there are lighthouses in the northern part of Ohio (I never equated lighthouses with Ohio, growing up in Cincinnati) – so this poem and another that I wrote are just figments of my imagination. – sls