Sunday, January 24, 2010
Catherine was born and raised in mid-town Manhattan, the daughter of Irish parents. Her grandparents had come to America from Ireland and England. One day in 1943, at the age of 17, she took the Staten Island ferry over to Staten Island to visit her older sister. It was quite a boat ride, since midway across New York harbor she was swept off her feet by a 19 year old boy from the hills of West Virginia. He had been stationed at the harbor as a member of the Coast Guard, and was enjoying a day off-duty to see the big city.
It was a whirlwind romance. Their first date was to be to go to the circus. Since neither had the money to get in, they decided to go for a walk in Central Park. They managed to scrape up enough change to rent a row boat, and paddled about in the park's pond. A few months later they stole away on a bus to Maryland to get married. (In New York at the time, she was too young by law to marry.)
Thus, began a very loving relationship that led to my coming into the world, and then my sister. We moved about from one place to another, our young parents trying to find a way up, a place in the world. New York, West Virginia, Texas, Chicago.
When you are a kid, you take your parents for granted. It takes some growing up and some distance to begin to see the world your parents saw.
My father, it turns out, was an extraordinary man. Always looking and creatively working to improve our plight as a family. He was inventive, artistic, poetic, and spiritual, in big and encompassing ways. I thought of him simply as my dad. It took some time to realize he was special. His life ended abruptly at the age of 40. A car wreck. My mother was seriously injured and still in the hospital when sis and I took a train to West Virginia to bury him in the place where he had been born. It was a surreal experience, and sis and I, both teen-agers, must have been in a state of shock the whole time.
It was hard for me to imagine my mother going on without my dad. Even near the end, they were always cuddling and holding hands like love-sick teens. Somehow, she pulled herself together. She moved to Tennessee, met a farmer, and re-married. To see my mother ( a New York City/Chicago kind of gal) on a working farm dealing with crops and cattle was quite extraordinary. He was a kind and gentle man. A medic in World War II, who had seen the worst of things life can present.
As it turns out, my mother found a lot of meaning and purpose in this new life. She went from someone pampered and adored by my father, to someone helping, and taking care of someone else. Her second husband began experiencing complications with diabetes that led to amputation of limbs, and then death from wounds that wouldn't heal. She was with him until the end.
In retrospect, the thing I learned from my my mother was to pick yourself up, start over. Re-invent yourself.
Following her second husband's death, she had hardly any time to think about what to do next with her life. Alzheimer's had found her. And Parkinson's too.
Yesterday my mother died. On my father's birthday.
Mrs. Catherine Smith-Warden, age 84, a resident of River Ridge Road in Lewisburg, passed away on Friday, January 22, at NHC Columbia.
A memorial service for Mrs. Warden will be conducted Monday at 11:00 A.M. in the chapel of Williams Funeral Home with Rick Points and a grandson, Wesley Bishop officiating. A dove release will be held following the service at the ossuary in The Arbors at Polk Memorial Gardens.
The family will visit with friends on Sunday from 2:00 – 6:00 P.M. at the Williams Funeral Home, Mt. Pleasant Pike Columbia, Tennessee.