In Memory of Mary Blanche Inwood Smith
April 4, 1933 – April 10, 2019
There's a brick in the walkway to the remodeled library at Adrian College that's inscribed "John and Mary Smith, 1955." (Adrian College is where they met.) There's a collection of Native American arrowheads from the Inwood family on display in the Nature Center at Stony Creek Metropark, and sign that says, "Inwood Trail," due in large part to my Mom's efforts. (She picked huckleberries there as a child.) There's a new surface on the parking lot here at Shabbona United Methodist Church repaved with Mom's generosity. She helped her grandkids with the educational and other expenses. She lived simply and gave generously. I learned stewardship from my Mom, watching her give to charities and churches and people all her life.
From my Mom I also learned to love the earth – the scent of freshly-turned soil in the garden, wildflowers blooming in the grasses beyond, birds at the feeder, different kinds of apples, some of which no longer exist. She didn't scold me for roaming the fields and bringing critters into the house – spiders in a glass jar covered with netting, beetles, ant farms. She gave me curtain sheers to make a butterfly net. She actually bought a butterfly collection that I made to display in her classroom at Loon Lake Elementary School.
From my Mom I learned hard work – Lord, Lord. What she accomplished from a wheelchair after polio paralyzed her legs at 21. Cooking, cleaning, canning, laundry, lesson plans, weeding, pushing that wheelchair through the soft dirt of the garden. Driving the car with hand controls to get her Master's Degree in Education at Oakland University. She taught school for 22 years, even on days when the parking lot was ice and Dad put nails in the tips of her crutches so she wouldn't slip. She was really smart, too. When I told her recently that she had a beautiful mind, she said, "The devil is that it's in a pain-ridden body." But she was a fighter. She had that Inwood stubbornness, I mean tenacity.
I also learned to love the Bible from my Mom. It was hard to pick just four scriptures for her service because she loved the whole thing. When she went into the hospital, she had four different bookmarks in her Bible – Second Chronicles, Psalms, Acts, and Ephesians. Second Chronicles!!! She taught Bible classes with Dad at Milford and Shabbona United Methodist Churches. She attended Bible studies faithfully at Country Gardens. She was the one who inscribed the Bible my parents gave me for my ninth birthday – her familiar block print, which was a lot better than her handwriting.
So, I also learned about faith from my Mom. "How do you pray, Mom?" I asked her once. "It's like floating," she said. "You let the water hold you up." Some measure of Dad's success in ministry was due to her – she taught confirmation class, listened to parishioners, and climbed those stupid steps at Commerce UMC every Sunday in her long braces. Grab the rail with one hand, lift the inside leg with the other, and swing the outside leg around. Step by step. I stood behind her, holding her purse. Just watching her live her life was an inspiration to so many. "If Mary can do it, so can I," people would say.
She was amazing, but she wasn't perfect. The constant pain often made her anxious and cranky. She wasn't easy to care for. It drove me crazy when she played the martyr. The same thing I said about Dad in his eulogy I could say about her – she was equal parts inspiring and infuriating. But the two of them – they had a deep love and loyalty to each other. Sometimes I wished she'd stood up to him more.
None of us are perfect. Don't we all know that. We all are mixtures of strengths and weaknesses, faults and virtues. But still God uses us for his work in the world, to love the people around us. She taught me about that, too.
Listen to what she told me in the hospital after she made the brave decision to go into hospice care. "I'm glad I'm a Christian," she said. "God is good. He loves us so much. He weeps when we weep. I'm so proud of all my children. I've had a rich and blessed life. So many good folks – fellow teachers, church people, especially in Wisconsin who cared for my family when I was in the hospital with polio." I imagine all of those good people lining the streets of heaven to welcome her home.
Thanks, Mom, for what you taught me: generosity, delight in this beautiful world, hard work, tenacity, faith, and love. I hope I can fight half as hard as you did. Now you can rest from your labors, free of pain. May all of your good works follow you.