Smitty

By Eilene Lyon

I’d like to introduce you to my maternal grandfather, Laurence Martin Smith, aka Smitty. In his retirement years, he took to writing down some stories about his life (don’t we wish all our ancestors would do that?!). I’ll be sharing some of them with you over the coming months.

The Fastest Dog on Bald Mountain (fiction)

Laurence was the sixth of seven children born to Charles Edward Smith (1867–1946) of Indiana, and Mary Lila Reams (1871–1817) of Missouri. Mary Lila’s parents had moved from Indiana to Missouri and may have known the Smiths back there. Charles and Mary Lila were married in Johnson County, Missouri, on 2 Sep 1888.

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The Charles and Mary Lila Smith family about 1915 in Moscow, Idaho. Laurence is standing between his parents, just behind little brother, Loren. The other children L to R: Clara Bell, Dora Ada, Clifford, Harry (in back), Leon (aka Bill).

Laurence was born in Colville, Washington, on 26 May 1908. Shortly after that, the family moved to Moscow, Idaho, where Laurence grew up. Charles opened a confectionary store in town, and then started a grocery delivery business, first with horse-drawn wagons and later with motorized delivery trucks.

Mary Lila died suddenly of myocarditis, a heart infection, in 1917, leaving a bereft family behind. Most of the children were grown by then, but Laurence was just nine and his younger brother only five. Though there were older siblings to help Charles raise the two youngest boys, Charles did remarry a few years later.

Charles’ second wife was a divorcee named Jennie (Wallace) Smith. I never realized Smitty had a stepmother until just a few years ago, when I found her in a census record. I asked my mother and aunt, and they said they’d known their grandpa remarried, “But she didn’t stick around and none of the children liked her.”

Despite that claim, Charles and Jennie were actually together for twenty years. The stepmother is a whole other story for another time, though. Clearly Laurence did not care to remember her, as he never mentioned her.

Though all the Smith boys were mechanically inclined, Laurence was the only one who went to college. He took a lot of grief from his brothers because of his education. He obtained a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Idaho, and married co-ed Clare Ransom Davis on 24 May 1934, during the depths of the Depression. (Clare was the younger daughter of Clara Pearl Ransom.)

Laurence and Clare (known as “Bobby”) had two daughters in the 1930s. With his education and determination, Laurence always had a job during the Depression. He eventually went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers, where he spent the bulk of his career. They settled him at Little Rock, Arkansas.

Smitty, as his friends at work called him (some friends called him Larry), also enjoyed working with his hands. He did some wood turning, made jewelry from agates he’d collected on Oregon beaches and tumbled, painted, and even made a hooked rug.

After retirement, Grandpa and Grandma Smith did a lot of trailer traveling in the winter months. They enjoyed southern California and Arizona, especially. Bird watching was their favorite hobby. Smitty loved camping, even in his younger years. That love of the outdoors passed down through my mother to me.

I didn’t spend a lot of time with my grandparents, being an Army brat, but I remember Grandpa Smith as a tall, slender, jovial guy. I’ve learned since that his sense of humor sometimes had a wicked mean streak. He was devoted to the Presbyterian Church, helping to raise funds for building one in Portland, Oregon.

Laurence M. Smith died on 5 Dec 1996 in Portland of an aortic aneurism. Clare lived another eight years and died in 2004 of Alzheimer’s.

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Laurence and Loren about the time their mother, Mary Lila (Reams) Smith died in 1917.

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Wedding photo of Clare Ransom Davis and Laurence Martin Smith, 1934.

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Laurence’s idea of camp humor with his first baby girl, 1936.

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Grandpa’s hooked rug turned into a pillow by Grandma.

Memoir articles:

The Runaway

A Beloved Mother Passes Too Soon

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