They Never Heard
Their Mother Sing
In Loving Memory of Lula Puffenbarger Smith
12–8–1896 — 4–12–1937
Most of the articles I have written have dealt with the family history my mom shared with me, the early part of my childhood that I was too young to remember and things I have lived in my life.
This article is about a woman I have only been able to see in my mind’s eye. I see a beautiful, loving person described to me by the children who called her mom for a very short time. My grandma Lula has been gone now almost 86 years and having put parts of her life in print, I finally have a picture in a frame if only in my mind.
Every child looks forward to the time spent at grandma’s house and the love and affection received from this special lady. I don’t have memories of either one of my grandmas as they both passed away years before I was born. My parents were both teenagers when their mothers died.
I am writing about my grandma, Lula “Puffenbarger” Smith, who married Gordon Smith at age 21. I have only small bits and pieces of grandma’s life to write about as the 12 children were all young when she passed away. Aunt Glenna was 20 and mom, Sheba, was 17 with the other 10 all younger and the twins only four weeks old.
Grandma Lula was of medium build with blue eyes and long, dark hair pulled back into a bun. She spent her days taking care of babies, fixing food, making clothes for the kids, washing clothes, and caring for the gardens. Grandma was a kind, loving wife and mother. Aunt Cleo said she never heard an angry or unkind word between her mom and dad.
A Christian woman, grandma never got to go to church as there was always a baby or young child who couldn’t walk with grandpap to St. Michael’s Church, and they couldn’t be left by themselves. The Smith children were good singers, but Aunt Cleo said, “I never heard my mother sing.”
My mom would sing all the time and my sisters, brother, and I were all born with this gift. Guess we got that from grandpap, a Smith talent.
The strength grandma had is shown in the way she took care of the home, the babies, and the gardens where most of the food they had was raised. Grandpap would be gone for days working or looking for work. The four oldest girls helped with the work as much as they could. Imagine washing and ironing for that many children. There was no washing machine or water in the house!
Grandma Lula did take time on occasion to take time from the daily routine. She would go with grandpap night hunting and it was on one such hunt that tragedy hit. The family dog, Kate, was with them and they encountered a civet cat. Kate ran the cat up a tree that was bent and hanging over and she tried to follow it up, falling to the ground. Kate was so badly hurt that she died. This playmate, companion, and protector of the Smith family was gone.
Aunt Cleo said that Kate’s bark would change, should a snake be near, saving the children from many a bite I’m sure.
The day Uncle Stan was born, grandma picked blackberries all morning, not the ones on tall bushes, but what we called dewberries, because they were on vines that ran on the ground. Uncle Stan was born that afternoon and grandpap was surprised to come home to a new baby. That took strength!
Grandma Lula had to make special clothes for the third youngest girl as she was so small the hand-me-downs were too big. Aunt Cleo said her mom had a black bag that resembled a doctor’s bag that she kept on the top shelf in the closet. When looking in this bag, if the children saw baby clothes, they knew there was another baby on the way. Grandma said she felt her best when expecting a baby! To be honest, I had a lot of days I didn’t feel too great!
I never heard my mom say much about her childhood but she talked a lot about her mom and how things were after the twins were born. She talked about the huge amount of blood grandma lost, how weak she was and how pneumonia set in. She talked about how she and Aunt Glenna helped grandpap take care of their mom and the two babies. Mom sat with her dad as her mother was dying. Aunt Cleo said that grandpap woke them in the middle of the night so they could be with their mother at the end. Death is hard for adults so how do you explain to little ones?
I believe the reason the Smith children rarely spoke of their mother was because losing her was too traumatic causing them to wipe these memories from their small minds. I believe this tragic event is why Aunt Cleo, who is 98, said, “I don’t remember much about my mom,” — and she was 13 at that time.
Having put her story into print, I finally can in my mind’s eye see Grandma Lula as a loving, kind, strong, determined woman who literally gave her life for her children and made sure they knew what family should be. She left a strong, firm foundation for her husband, the love of her life, to continue to build on as he raised their children by himself.
Our family has a saying when one of us is determined to do something, that it’s that “stubborn Smith thing.” The “stubborn Smith thing” was probably 50/50 with 50% coming from the Puffenbarger side of the Gordon and Lula Smith team. Grandma’s short time on this earth was full of love, compassion, strength, and love for her God — shown by how she lived her 41 years. Material things were not what grandma was about. Grandpap Gordon and Grandma Lula were meant to be together!
The children never heard their mother sing and I never held my grandma’s hand.
I want to thank Aunt Cleo for the bits and pieces of her childhood memories from which this story was born. Aunt Cleo turned 13 the day before her mother died and will be 99 years old on April 11.
Written October 2022 by Violet R. Eye – Grandma Lula’s second grandchild