My grandparents’ lives

were relatively simple

compared to that of

my parents,

and in the adult lives

of myself and

my siblings;

My grandparents had

no social security numbers,

no telephone numbers–at least

not in the beginning–

and when telephones became

available, the numbers were easy

to remember–GRanville 2334 or

Kirby 8846 (the first was Grandma’s

number and the Kirby exchange was


Their address was 1957 Baltimore Street

and a zip code was only two numbers;

their was 25.

It cost a penny to mail a letter. (When

I was a child, a first class stamp to

mail a letter was 3 cents.

There were streetcars (often called

trolley car) to take you where ever

you wanted to go. the fare was

five cents and you could ask for

a free transfer slip if you needed]

to change to another car.  There

was no need for my grandfather

to drive a car; a streetcar could

take him where he needed to go.

I think my father was the first

in the family to buy and drive a car.

My memory is that of a 1953 Chevrolet

that my father bought–he was loyal

to Chevrolet for many years.

My grandfather enjoyed a successful

career as a tailor; he created men’s


My grandmother was a cook in

the home of a well-to-do family

before she married and settled down

to be a housewife and mother.

She could be bossy and opinionated

but never with her grandchildren

who all adored her.  I think it’s

safe to say, she adored us, too.

My parents were both born

in Cincinnati, Ohio, and all

of their children were born here

as well. It was a fairly simple life

in Cincinnati when my grandparents

were young adults , where you paid

cash for everything. There were no

credit cards. They had a house payment

and once a month

grandma went downtown to pay

the utility bills and house payment

in person, with cash.

My parents met when they were both

teenagers, and my father had a metal

social security card with his number

stamped on it.

My parents’ marriage began

at the tail end of the Great Depression,

an event that greatly influenced my

mother’s entire life;  she would

always be frugal and reuse everything

that could be recycled and used again,

and sometimes more than twice,

items such as newspaper, wax paper,

aluminum foil and definitely all leftovers

from a meal.

It took them 9 years to save up enough

money to buy their first home,

at 1618 Sutter Street; this is the home

where my memory begins; I was going

on 5 years old when we moved into

the Sutter Street house;

My mother was one of a few working

mothers in the 1940s when most mothers

stayed at home.

My mother also took in laundry and I was

often corralled to iron hankies and other

simple items; mom also sold greeting cards

from Cardinal Craftsman and would send

me to pick up her order at 8th and State

since my car fare was only a nickel whereas

hers would have been a dime.  I also sold her

greeting cards to the neighbors generally

for five cents each.    My mother was as

frugal as it is for a person to be; she

bought our Christmas tree on Christmas

eve when very little was left on the lot

and she could get a tree for a quarter.

But mom had a charge-a-plate for Shillitoes

and sometimes sent me downtown to shop

for her.  she sent me downtown every

Saturday for several months to pay a

dollar a week for a new coat she had in

layaway at Lerner’s. (When I was older

and getting married, I bought my wedding

dress at Lerner’s too).

In 1955 my parents bought a brand-new

house; it was their dream house at

7099 Mulberry Steet; It was unfinished  inside

and unpainted–we children sanded woodwork

and they waited a long time before painting

the walls. (I believe someone told them it

was better to wait a year before painting

indoor walls).

All that being said, my father loved new

gadgets and we had the first television set

on our street. He bought a new Chevrolet

every few years.

My father retired from Formica –the only

place he ever worked at and my parents

retired in Florida in a mobile home park.

I obtained my social security card when I was 16,

to have it when I started searching for part time

jobs and found my first full-time job at Western

Southern Insurance a few months after my high

school graduation.

My married life began in 1958

and in 1961 my husband and I

and our one year old son

drove across country  to California.

I find in my life

we have a great deal more

to remember besides

a social security card–

along with


telephone numbers,

cell phone numbers,

account numbers for credit cards

We are a generation of numbers

and computers

digital cameras,

cell phones

but in 008

I bought a house

that is all numbers *yikes!)

this is, I think, Progress

where a woman

(and not a young one)

can buy a house–

My grandmother would

applaud me if she were

still alive.

Maybe she did..

and maybe she had a hand

in helping me buy my house.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted Day 3, October 3, 2009

Updated September 14, 2018






Although I have an irrational fear of snakes, and going to Mexico, swimming in rivers (where I can’t see what is in the water with me) of being in skyscrapers in California (the skyscraper itself doesn’t frighten me; its the fear of being in an earthquake while I am in a skyscraper) and I have no interest in taking a cruise, for fear of drowning in the ocean.

I used to be afraid of being on my own, and facing divorce, but conquered those fears by going through it. But what I fear most of all, now, is losing my mind. My mother had Alzheimer’s the last decade of her life and her mother, my Grandma Beckman, suffered from dementia – and so what I fear most is the loss of who I am, of being unable to read or write, or communicate in any way with those I love. No longer being able to understand what I am seeing or hearing on Television, no longer able to comprehend the simplest of every day things.  That is what I fear most.

Sandra Lee Smith

February 24, 2009

ps ten years later and still “here”.


No matter how long I’ve been gone this time,

Much of it is still the same;

The house that my grandparents owned, still stands;

The church and school, down on the corner (where my

father, aunt and uncle went to school)–where I went

to school for eight years, remains. The mom & pop

grocery shops on the corners are  boarded and gone,

as are the merchants who sold us their goods;

But there are still thickets of forests and parks,

Mount Airy and Winton woods.

Downtown is different and somehow still the same,

Fountain Square has been moved several feet;

Shillitoes, Pogues, McAlpin’s are gone;

a new stadium makes change complete;

The Ohio River looks much the same,

Newport-on-the-Levee, however, is new,

(and a delight to visit), I don’t recognize the

strange purple bridge    over the river,

or where the expressways go to;

Camp Washington Chili Parlor is still standing (after 75 years

and still family owned) and yet The building was moved

to widen the street (a must to visit for lunches while I am there),

Findlay Market still stands but has been renovated

and greatly expanded to make its transformation complete.

I know its my home. I visit my school where I

graduated from high school sixty years ago; my

school, Mother of Mercy, is merging with another

girls’ high school–my school, built in 1915, the

year my father was born; I attended a class reunion

in April and we were allowed to roam the halls,

bringing back so many memories; our graduating

class of about 250 students has dwindled down to

less than fifty of us in attendance. A photograph

was taken of us, in front of Mother of Mercy, by

a professional photographer,  prints given to all of us

when the reunion was over.

How can so much be changed and yet, so much

is still the same?

I know its my hometown, where I was born (where my parents were born!)

Where I went to St Leo’s school for 8 years, attended high school at Mercy,

got married, worked downtown–and moved to California.  I recognize the

names of the streets where I lived. Except for my grandparents’ home,

the other houses where I once lived are gone.

I am almost a stranger in the place where I was

born.  And yet, there are friends that I greet,

family members gather close to hug and kiss;

Returning home…is always bitter sweet.


Sandra Lee Smith

(originally written in September, 2009; updated June, 2018)




The trunk is filled to overflowing

with keepsakes,

Letters written by my parents,

School report cards of my children’s.,

There are even the report cards I received

throughout my four years of high school;

Drawings my sons made in school,

Valentines they received from their friends,

Birthdays cards from their grandparents–

There is flotsam and jetsam

of our daily lives,

Beginning in 1958 with wedding


and new baby celebrations;

There are diaries and journals

and newspaper clippings,

Announcing the death of Elvis,

The eruption of Mount Saint Helen,

the assassination of JFK,

Man walking on the moon…

Major events that touched our lives;

Periodically, I go through everything

in the small chest thinking I will discard

Many of these things that are

meaningless to anyone but me,

but in the end I put everything back

and snap the trunk closed again,

thinking–let someone else throw them away;

I can’t do it.


Sandra Lee Smith

written September 2009



whenever I hear that song,

I am reminded of you

And a hotel room

in Santa Barbara,

Where we drove, impulsively,

one night after dinner

in Santa Monica, after

I mentioned I had never

been to Santa Barbara…

Not stopping for toiletries

or pajamas or a change

of underwear, we stopped

at a drugstore to buy

toothbrushes and drove

up the coast;

you found us a place

on the beach

where the roar of the ocean

and the smell of salt spray

were constant reminders

we were truly there.

Next morning, we walked

on the beach and along

the pier, before driving

to Solvang where we

visited bookstores and

curiosity shops and spent

another night at a hotel

in a town that closes down

at 6 pm.

It was one of the most

memorable weekends in

my  life.

I have been back to

Santa Barbara and also

to Solvang many times

since but it was never

quite the same  as it

was with you.  That

song we first heard in Santa

Monica became our song,

yours and mine,

and whenever I hear it

being played, I am swept back

to1985 and

those early days with  you.

Sandra Lee Smith

November,2009/updated June 8, 2018


I am not sure I always knew

who I was, or what I wanted

out of life.

When I was a child, I knew

I wanted to be a writer,

And so I wrote poetry, journals,

letters to penpals and stories–

and when I wasn’t writing stories

I was telling them or reading my

stories to others.  When I was a

little older, I thought the most

important thing in life was to get

married and have children. It

didn’t occur to me that possibly a career

in journalism or  home economics

might have been my passion.

I thought the thing to do was marry

and become a mother. Unfortunately,

the man I married was not really  a man–

he was a boy in a man’s clothing and

being an adult and a parent wasn’t

his cup of tea. But I wouldn’t learn

this until much later.

I discovered books at an early  age

and when I was 25, I discovered the

world of cookbooks. This, then,

became my passion and when I

was not collecting cookbooks,

I was writing about cookbooks.

Meantime, I collected penpals

in much the same way that I

would collect cookie jars, recipes,

and recipe boxes. By the time I

was 29, I had four  sons and

several hundred cookbooks–

and perhaps several thousand

other books–as my interest in

various topics widened and I collected

books on whichever subjects had

captured my attention–such as

books about the White House

and American Presidents and First Ladies

–and then there were the cookbooks about

the White House and First Ladies.

I continued writing, writing, writing, but

seldom accomplishing very much,

while raising four children and a husband,

with the dim realization that some people

never grow up.  I was becoming myself

but wasn’t quite there yet.

At the age of 36, I returned to work

full time, at the behest of my good

friend who had an opening in her

office just waiting for me. It

was a whole new world opening

up with many  new coworkers

who would become close

friends and a job that

would be a life saver

later on. At the age of

44, the marriage built like

a house of cards collapsed

and it took a year of therapy,

friendships, family , and my

job to bring me to the other

side, a little smarter, a little

braver, a little wiser than I

had been before.

When my husband jeered

“who will want you with

all those cats and dogs

and cookie jars”  I was

able to answer–it

doesn’t matter if someone

WANTS me–I have to  get on

with my life now –and then

I knew I was becoming a

stronger version of my self.

It didn’t happen overnight

and it didn’t happen in a few years–

it simply happened over time, having

survived the breakup of a 26 year

marriage, the loss of several

close friends  – I could

finally look  myself in the

mirror and say “I did the

best I could with the tools

I had given to me.

As I approach my

78th birthday in September,

I think I can say I have become

myself–mother, grandmother, sister,

aunt, girlfriend, poet, writer and

I embrace all these tools that

have helped me in becoming



Sandra Lee Smith

June 8, 2018






“if practice makes perfect–And nobody’s perfect – then why practice?”

We owe a debt of gratitude to American President, John Adams, who wrote this proverb in his diary in 1761.  One wonders- What was he thinking when Adams penned these words?

As for myself, we grew up practicing, practicing, practicing.

  We practiced penmanship, Endeavoring to get our letters as rounded and connected as those of Sister Margaret Mary, who taught third grade; when you learned “cursive” and received a small bottle of dark blue ink to place in a hole in a in the top right hand side of our desks.

We practiced reciting our times tables until you got them all right, through twelves and could say them in your sleep.  I still can.

We practiced long division in fifth grade and had to stand in front of the blackboard solving the problems  posed by Sister Doris Marie.

Sister also loved diagramming sentences and we did those on the blackboard too.  You practiced diagramming and long division  throughout the year until you could do those in your sleep, too.

I did not learn fractions. My piano lesson coincided with Arithmetic class  the year we practiced fractions.  I did not practice my piano lessons either.  But–coasted, oblivious, through two years piano lessons that cost my mother twenty five cents each.

But I did practice (hoping for perfection) how to make a pie crust that  was light and feathery and golden brown and how to

make muffins,




tea breads,

sponge jellyroll cake,

butter cream frosting,

chocolate glaze,


butterscotch pudding,

Meringue that did not “weep”,

cream puffs and eclairs,

peanut butter cookies,

Béchamel sauce,


and Grape Jelly, ruining several of my mother’s kitchen dish towels in the process.

I was happy to practice anything in the kitchen, seeking perfection but when I fell short, two younger brothers sat on the back steps Eating up my mistakes,

Al of which leads me to conclude we are happy to practice until perfect what we love most and if you can’t be perfect, keep someone nearby who is willing to destroy the evidence. (After my brothers grew up, as well as my sons–that person destroying the evidence would have been Bob.)


Sandra Lee Smith

February 20 , 2009





It seems only fitting on this August day

To send you good wishes and tell you I pray

That you are listening, as daily I reach

Out to your spirit and say, I beseech

That you have knowledge and live without pain,

That you can look in on your sons once again,

That you have contentment, where ever you are,

That you are nearby, or not very far.

You’d be surprised, I think, if you saw,

That I’ve taken up gardening–it’s not hard at all–

But you were the gardener and I was the chef,

At the end of the day, what then was left?

You’d bring me fresh lettuce, red tomatoes so round,

And basil as fresh as the leaves breaking ground;

Sometimes we grew corn, fresh golden ears,

Sometimes we had sunflowers, all volunteers,

We had concord grapes and squash in the fall,

And lemons and oranges, enough for us all.

and now when I think of the lives that we led,

I don’t think we were lovers, but best friends instead.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written August 22, 2012, updated June 3, 2018


What I lost that year

is mostly a place

Not so far from where I am,

but too far to be there

on any kind of regular basis;

I lost the bougainvillea

that I loved so dearly,

And the orange and lemon trees

which do not grow in this place.

But there have been a decade of


of what does thrive

such as pomegranates, apples,

Pears and cherries. Best discovery

are the poppies, growing wild throughout

the Desert–for a brief spell, but Oh-so-

beautiful to see!

I lost the Jacaranda trees

and the crepe myrtle

which prefer a more temperate climate

as well.

I lost the marine layer

that shrouds the San Fernando valley

with fog several months of the year,

but you have to love the fog (more commonly known

as the marine layer)

to appreciate this loss.

I lost the nearness of the ocean

and the airport in Burbank, California–

Who would have ever imagined

that the frequent sound of

airplanes departing and landing

could be a loss?  It was and it is.

I lost the nearness of the

San Fernando Mission and

think that perhaps, the Santa

Barbara Mission, distant as it is,

May be one nearest to us now.

I have lost being near

many girlfriends,

who get together several times a year

for lunches,

or having friends drop by

because they were in the neighborhood.

But what I lost most of all I s that image of

Bob working in the garden or doing a crossword

puzzle in the Secret Garden, planting,

trimming, cutting bringing me

the first rose of spring;

It was his domain, that piece of land,

and when I think of him,

I see him working in the garden.

Yes, you say, but look what you have gained!

And I look around and say yes,

But look at how much has been lost.

I do have the secret  garden,

rebuilt and larger,

And when I meditate on letting go,

This is where I take myself,

And I listen to the wind chimes and the birds chirping.

Transitioning is far more difficult than you can imagine–

Unless you have been there and done that.

I spent more years in the Arleta house

than any other place in my entire life.

Thanksgiving weekend in November 2018

will be the ten year anniversary of my

transition from the San Fernando Valley

to the Antelope Valley, about sixty-five

miles north of my former home.

The greatest loss, I confess, was losing

Bob in September of 2011.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my Canadian Friends, Doreen & Harv, who took me to Pismo Beach in February of 2012, where I filled Bob’s request to put his ashes into the ocean.  I don’t think I could have gone through with his wishes if they had not been with me. So, thank you, Doreen & Harv.

Sandra Lee Smith

Written in August, 2012/Updated June 3, 2018


The dreams I had as a  young bride, in 1958,

were simple ones;

I wanted an apartment of our own,

Not two rooms downstairs from my husband’s mother;

And, I wanted to have a baby…

Why the latter was so important just then,

I can’t say except that

all of my girlfriends were getting married

and having babies.

The first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage,

and I learned a cold, hard lesson

while laying on a hospital bed,

When I begged my husband to come to the hospital

he refused, saying

He had to get up early to go to work

in the morning.

I cried, then, for my mother,

but would not call her to come.

A nurse sat by the bed

and held my hand

until I fell asleep.

Soon, I was pregnant again,

and in 1960, my son Michael was born

and I learned another cold hard lesson;

My husband’s mother and sister

took control of the baby.

He was never to be my baby.

I returned to work when Michael was

three months old,

leaving him to the care of his father,

grandmother, and aunt.

I think many of my dreams

were shattered in those first

two years of marriage.

Why, then, persevere?

When Michael was a y ear old,

We drove to California

And my dream, then, was

that my husband would grow up–

and perhaps to some degree, he did,

but his mother came to spend months

with us and

in 1962 I had another miscarriage.

Truthfully, I didn’t feel sorry for myself.

Not then, not now. They were just dreams

and oftentimes, dreams don’t come true

or dreams are shattered.

I may have learned it isn’t wise

to dream too much,

or have any great expectations.


Sandra Lee Smith

written January 2010