As has become all too often, Mom and I received news on Friday that brought sadness: another loved one has left this life behind. We’ve grieved our loss, but are comforted knowing our friend has found joy. We spent time Saturday thinking about good times shared and fun memories of her.
Doris E. Chambers Smith was born in Pennsylvania and lived most of her life a bit down the road in Valley Grove, West Virginia. That’s outside Wheeling. And not far from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Doris and Mom had been friends since the mid 1950s. Their link: their husbands, Charles “Chuck” Percy Smith and John Henderson Osborne Jr. (my Dad), were Army buddies who served together in Korea and remained friends forever.
Among their fellow troops in Korea called them “Smitty” and “Oz.”
Chuck and Doris married in 1952, before he deployed. Dad’s first goal when he got home from service was to woo Mom. It took him a few months to get her down the aisle. My sister Pam came along the next year (join me in wishing her a happy 65th birthday today, Jan. 24), and my brother Keith three years after that.
The first time “the Smittys” came down to visit Mom and Dad was shortly after Keith was born in 1959. They arrived early and Dad was still at work (Mom said it was a “short-change” week for Dad at Mead) and Mom was at first shy and unsure of herself as hostess for this couple she’d never met.
But that quickly faded and Mom and Doris grew close over the years. Like Mom and Dad, Chuck and Doris ultimately had three children, a girl and two boys. Our families visited with each other regularly in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, all us kids were doing our own thing and it was back, for the most part, to the two couples visiting.
I grew up visiting family on farms in Southwest Virginia almost weekly. But visiting the Smiths’ farm in West Virginia, and that of Doris’ parents in Pennsylvania, standout still in my childhood memories. They had sheep. And then there was Pittsburgh, where we’d go sightseeing and shopping. Pam remembers well that the first indoor mall we ever visited was on a trip to visit the Smiths, during an outing to Pittsburgh.
Before I was born, Mom and Dad also visited, and were visited by another Army buddy of Dad’s and Chuck’s, Claude Schroeder and his wife Donna, in Columbia, Illinois. I feel cheated I didn’t get to go there. Oh, in this circle of Army buddies, Schroeder was always just “Schroeder.” Mom last spoke with him at Christmas.
When the Smiths came down to visit us, we’d do the standard things one living in our region did: picnics at Duck Island (somewhere, we have a wonderful black and white snapshot of a clearly delighted Doris, Wanda, and toddler Pam riding the little train that used to be an attraction there); day trips to Gatlinburg and the Great Smokey Mountains (more picnics); and an at-its-peak-in-popularity, a visit to the Land of Oz at Beech Mountain, North Carolina.
Visits from the Smith family often included trips to Elizabethton to visit a third Army buddy from “Smitty’s and Oz’s” days in Korea, Carmen Hall and his wife Robenia.
Us kids played in the yard, splashed in our little wading pool, and walked to the park. By one of the last visits that included the older kids, I remember their daughter, and a friend she’d brought along, trying to teach me “the Hustle.”
Mom and I had more than a few laughs as we shared these and other memories.
Mom said on the first, or at least an early, visit down here, Doris came into the kitchen the first morning to find Dad making the bulk of breakfast. Mom had a pan of biscuits in the stove. Dad was in charge of eggs, “all the meats … bacon, ham, sausage … and, of course, gravy.” Doris looked over Dad’s shoulder just as he slowly poured a bowl of evaporated milk (“cream,” we called it back then) diluted with a bit of water into the skillet.
“John!” Doris said. “You put milk in your gravy?”
It left Dad and Mom wondering what Doris used to make gravy.
On another visit, Dad was about to head down to the Fairway Market to pick up cookout supplies. Chuck declined Dad’s invitation to ride along. Until Mom called out for Dad to “Bring us back some dopes!” Chuck, looking somewhat surprised and perhaps reassessing his lodging choices, suddenly leaped up and ran to the truck to join Dad.
On their way home, cartons of Coca-Cola among their haul, Chuck laughed heartily as he told Dad he had no idea we down here called “pop” “dope.”
On that trip to the Land of Oz (with “Oz” and his family), Doris and Mom (terrified of heights and rides) shared one of the “gondolas” that whisked the theme park’s visitors up the mountain in summer (and skiers up the mountain in winter). Doris appeared undaunted by the thought of taking the gondolas. But once their journey began, each pass over a support pole would cause the gondola to jerk, then swing. Doris’ nervous responses became more pronounced with each pole. It might have been exaggerated intentionally, as it distracted Mom from her own fear and had her giggling by the time they reached the top.
Mom and Dad had last visited Doris and Chuck sometime in the 1990s. And we kids had to ground them when they got home and admitted they left too late on their way to West Virginia, got tired … and slept in the car in a parking area. In July. With the windows down.
Dad’s health began its rapid decline with a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2006. He passed away in 2013. Doris and Chuck had made it down for one last visit before Dad’s disease progressed past his being able to ride his scooter at least onto the front porch. “Oz and Smitty” had some long, last in-person conversations there, watching the sun set behind Bays Mountain.
Chuck died in 2018.
Mom and Doris kept up the friendship that started between their husbands, talking frequently on the telephone, most often on Sunday. They last talked two weeks ago, three at the most. Doris’ health had been in decline and she had to be hospitalized. Her son Mark, who has been her primary caregiver, kept Mom updated on her condition. Doris, Mark said, caught COVID-19. And on Friday, she was gone.