Tuesday, August 18, 2009

E is for Eulogy

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday Round 5 features the letter E this week. Somehow, in two very busy weeks, I managed to mis C and D, but I think this entry is long enough (i.e. too long!) to make up for several missed weeks.

I wrote this down to read at the start of the celebration of Otto J. M. Smith’s life, held at the beautiful Alumni House on the University of California campus on the day that would have been Otto’s 92nd birthday. This was not a religious celebration. I read the following, then my oldest son, also named Otto, served as master of ceremonies, calling upon those who wished to take part. He also played piano accompaniment to violins or singers who didn’t wish to sing without accompaniment. I wanted this to be a happy celebration. It was, with much laughter and smiles as relatives, friends and colleagues shared anecdotes as well as heartfelt tributes to what he had contributed to their lives. The music was eclectic, some chosen just because my husband had enjoyed it, some chosen to express the feelings of the musicians.

Son Stanford sings Woodie Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land"

So here is my introduction:

Thank you all for coming to this celebration of the life of my brilliant, multi-faceted, compassionate husband. He was a dedicated teacher, a scientist, and (the title he most prized) a licensed professional engineer. He figured that engineers were the people who put ideas into practice. He considered himself a citizen of the United States and of the World and as part of the University of California. He wanted the best for all three of them, anxious to solve their problems and ready to criticize when he thought they were following misguided paths. He worried about Global Warming and promoted alternative energy systems. In the picture displayed here (to left of Stanford in above photo) that bit of shiny green under his hand is a prototype plug-in electric car that he is admiring. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

I know that some of you wish to celebrate his life with words, music or poetry. Remember, too, that this is a birthday party for what will be Otto’s 92nd birthday tomorrow. I know that he would want us to enjoy it. When we are done with our seated participation, there are light refreshments available and the patio, as well as this room has tables and chairs for us.

I feel e
xtremely privileged to have shared almost 71 years of Otto’s life, first as a friend at Stanford University then almost 68 years (as of September 3rd) as his wife. He was always my best friend. We shared ideals, aspirations, interests, were constantly delighted with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We laughed a lot, discussed a lot (sometimes heatedly), always knew that we each had married the right person. Otto had a constant thirst for knowledge, loved teaching, and at the university kept his office door open at all times. He enjoyed meeting old friends but also would engage total strangers in conversations about his concerns and enthusiasms. Traveling with Otto was always an adventure, and we did a lot of traveling.

Most of you know of his many honors and his numerous patents, but he also had a beautiful bass voice and joined choirs both here and in those countries where we might have been living for a few months or years. He enjoyed playing violin, viola and guitar. He was a life member of the California Writers' Club, and wrote not only technical papers but essays, travel stories and poetry.

Otto was always an honest person, and almost always a truthful one, but he also was a bit of a tease. At one time he had rescued a small albino possum whom we name
d Pogoette after Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Otto bought her a little red harness and a leash and would take her walking through the neighborhood. She would slurp up snails from the gardens that they passed, and many people would ask, “What is your little pet?” Otto would answer with a straight face, “She’s a tetraploid rat.” Most peoples would nod wisely.

I would like to read one of Otto’s poems to you. Coincidentally, just yesterday, long after I had decided on this poem, a blogger friend in Australia e-mailed me for permission to use it in her literary group. (Here I read the poem
Stonehenge, which I have previously shared with you.) A reflection of Otto’s joy in life is expressed in a song which he and I often sang in the car. Our car was always filled with song. The language of this song is German, but it means “Enjoy life while the lantern glows” and seems to me an expression of Otto’s ebullient spirit. I have asked my granddaughter Anna to sing it for you as the start of this celebration.

This photo shows that it was a joyous occasion
mixed with some tears as we realized
the magnitude of our loss.
In this photo:
Anna Smith and Kristin Smith, granddaughter and Daughter-in-law,
violinists; Alden Bryant, long-time friend who sang "Beloved Comrade";
Sterling Smith (standing) who played a Bach fragment on his tenor recorder.

The photos are by granddaughter Josie Andersen. For more links to ABC Wednesday, click on link or banner at the top of this post.


Linda Jacobs said...

I've got a lump in my throat! Your love for Otto just shines through!

Marianne said...

Dearest Phyllis, I think of you often, I think of Otto often, knowing he lives on in your bright love, and the love of everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. What a beautiful gathering, in word and deed.
The Woody song reminded me, my father always asked that I sing another of Woody's songs, 'So long, it's been good to know you', which I did and joined by many. A friend of mine wrote some new verses to reflect dad's life. (we felt Woody would've approved :^)
Much love to you. XOXOXOXOX

JonsterMom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JonsterMom said...

I enjoyed being there to help celebrate the life of a wonderful man. I know that I was lucky enough to grow up having the best grandparents any child could hope for! I have always remembered how you and Grandpa made every feel welcome and loved. It has inspired me to strive to help others feel welcome in whatever I do. I love you!

Tumblewords: said...

Endearing post. I'm so glad you are sharing events and thoughts with your blog readers. I'm always happy to see you here.

photowannabe said...

Thank you for sharing this touching and intimate tribute to your dear husband. You have described a most fascinating man. I would have loved to have known him.

mrsnesbitt said...

Dear Phyllis, this is so so so lovely! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. ((((((HUGS))))))

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

Hello Granny Smith - this is a wonderful tribute to your late husband. I particularly liked "always knew that we had each married the right person". A very moving E post. A

Grace and Bradley said...

Thanks you for sharing with us and let us know this marvelous person. Take care.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I am so glad you mentioned Otto's Australian audience. They all enjoyed the poem and also the account of Otto's life which I patched together from details on your blog. I think my request was a delightful coincidence, an example of real serendipity.

anthonynorth said...

Beautiful words for a marvellous celebration of his life. You did him proud.

Reader Wil said...

Dear Granny Smith! What a beautiful tribute to your beloved and brilliant husband! Thanks for sharing this with us!

Jay said...

That was beautiful. I think it is the right way, to celebrate someone's life, rather than simply weep and wail, though there will (of course) be some of that too. How could there not be, when the loved person is no longer with you? I admire your strength, Phyllis. I know you will always love your Otto - that much is obvious - and it must be so hard to carry on without him. *Hugs*

lv2scpbk said...

Wonderful post. A great way to celebrate someone's life that meant so much. And, a E word I wouldn't have thought of.

nonizamboni said...

To enjoy life as the lantern glows would sum up how I view your life and what you've expressed about dear Otto. Such a beautiful eulogy and made even more touching by the photos.
Thanks for sharing from the deepest part of your heart--where Otto still resides.
Love & Hugs, dear Friend.

Roger Owen Green said...

Old friends; what a treaure.

Life with Kaishon said...

I am so thankful for your many years together. 63. That is just phenominal. I am so glad that you held this beautiful celebration of his life.

At times I think of you and cry for your loss. I pray that Otto is in heaven today making joyful music for all he encounters. : )

Much love,


Your EG Tour Guide said...

Wonderful eulogy. Otto must have been a very special person to deserve such love. ;-)

Q said...

Your tribute to your husband is joyful and loving.
Thank you for the inspiration.

Dragonstar said...

What a beautiful post! Your gathering was a wonderful celebration of love and friendship. You will always be together.