Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Her name is Rachel

Rachel, age 4
    On April 25, 1979 -- 33 years ago today -- Beatrice presented me with the greatest gift I have ever received.
     Rachel Nicole Van Thyn was born that day. When the nurses put her in my arms, it was the best moment of my life. (Tied for second place: The three days in recent years when I first held my grandchildren.)
     She is now Rachel Smith -- a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law, a middle school librarian, a talented scrapbooker and photographer, an artsy person, loves Glee and Disney World and Facebook and PinInterest, sometimes drinks beer and/or wine (oh, my).
     I assure you that our world revolves around her and her older brother, Jason, and their families.
      We named her after my mother's mother, Rachel Kopuit Lopes-Dias. The Nicole part was Bea's idea (but I liked it).
      She came out a strawberry blonde, a little surprise because we thought she might be dark-haired. She was very blonde as a little girl, and very precocious. Her first word was "light," and she pointed to it. Very soon she was pointing at the "copters, copters" when we lived near the air base in Hawaii.
      Her mother put her in printed, flowery dresses -- and Rachel adorned them with strings of beads, many beads. She loved stuffed animals, and had a bunch. Boppy was her favorite, and shared her bed. At 3, she sometimes walked up to people and said, "Hi, my name is Rachel."
      Pinwheel was her first TV show; she loved Aurelia and Plus and Minus. Later she got us hooked on Happy Days and Quantum Leap. Her room was usually a mess; told to clean it, she invariably would take everything off the shelves, pile it in mid-floor, and start over.
     She was born long after the '60s, but she caught Beatlemania. She had all the Babysitters Club books, and her favorite movie -- must've watched it a thousand times -- was Dirty Dancing (again, oh, my). But she loved Rainman, too, and Aladdin and The Lion King.
The grown-up Rachel.
    She could recite almost every word of those moves. But she could do that even when she was very young, and she could "read" books and memorize them. When she was in the play Snow White in first grade, she knew everyone's lines, and kept prompting the other kids.
       For her 8th birthday, she asked for a cat. Kitty, a talkative, cuddly and big Siamese with a deep voice, stayed with us for 16 years through four states. He joined Boppy on her bed most nights. Rachel and Kitty loved each other.
       Her sports career lasted one soccer season. She picked flowers and daydreamed while others played. When she was about 9, she wrote a poem that began, "Sports, sports, is all I hear; sports, sports, every time I'm near ..."
       Nice. (I have the poem in the drawer next to our bed.)
        She had to endure many an hour while her brother played soccer -- for 11 years, in Louisiana and then Florida. She had a tough time in junior high with braces, implants and a strange allergy,  causing her to miss multiple days of school.
         Fortunately, got past that. I'm partial, yes, but she's beautiful. She always was.
         From the time she was young, she was talkative, articulate, could visualize things and draw. She tested into advanced classes in upper elementary, was an uninspired student in junior high -- she had lots to overcome with a sometimes hectic situation at home -- and came into her own after moving to Bearden High School in Knoxville as a junior. She had to go through two moves, five schools in nine years.
         But she went to the University of Tennessee, and her sharp mind kicked in. Although she took a one-semester break to work as an intern at Disney World in Orlando (and she loved it), she made nothing but A's until her final semester, a summa cum laude graduate, major in English Literature.
        She wasn't ready to teach, so she went to work ... in retail. She flitted from job to job, happy for a while and then not. But she met a lot of nice people and made a lot of friends.       And finally, she met the guy. He lived in the apartment complex right next to her. He was tall and dark (and I'll let Rachel and Bea and Laughlin, the guy's mother, add the handsome part).
        So her dad was a sports writer, and maybe she resented sports, but Russell Smith was -- is -- a sports talk radio host in Knoxville. He's also a musician and a Vols fan and -- like Rachel -- loves Disney World.
          On June 4, 2005, Bea and I walked Rachel down the aisle. Talk about a proud moment.
The trip down the aisle with our baby.
          Some 2 1/2 years later, Rachel and Russell presented us with Josephine Nicole Smith.
       I don't know any mother who is more conscientious than Rachel. Not perfect, but she tries to be. That little girl is the center of her world -- and ours. Just like her two cousins, Jacob and Kaden Key.
       The Smiths, Laughlin and Dr. Joe, have treated Rachel like their own daughter (Russell is the oldest of three boys). It was Laughlin, a high school geometry teacher, who pushed Rachel to go back to U. of Tennessee for her master's degree in library sciences. After two-plus years, Rachel got it done -- again with almost all A's. And fortunately, a job came open -- at the last moment before the start of the school year -- at Carter Middle School in Strawberry Plains, Tenn.
       Rachel was a bit scared and apprehensive going in. But her talent and personality took over; she's fit in well. It's still a learning process, but she's grown into it. She's neat and organized, takes pride in her library, and is still learning to teach her classes. Who knows where she goes from here, but we have a lot of confidence in her, and so do others.
       She is close with her mother, and she has taught Bea and me so much about life. We hope she feels the same about us. She is still our little girl, but -- as she used to say when she was very young -- she's "all growed up."


  1. love this tribute to your daughter...I agree she truly IS beautiful and I know she's special because I know what special people her parents are!! Happy Birthday, Rachel and happy remembering that "day", Bea & Nico!

  2. What is so wonderful is that she is just as beautiful on the inside - and I know her personally!

    BTW, doesn't she look like one of those Disney princesses?