An only child and one of the original “latchkey kids,” I came home from primary school to an empty apartment, save for my sidekick dog and Kate Smith, whom I considered my surrogate grandmother.
True, Kate Smith was present to me only through our small black-and-white television screen. No matter. We had just moved to the apartment from another State, leaving my former babysitter-maternal-grandmother behind, and Kate Smith, a tall, large-framed woman, with a warm smile, comfortingly reminded me of the grandmother we left behind, the grandmother who used to take care of me.
My favorite part of Kate Smith’s daily television show was her singing “God Bless America.” Gave me chills. But good chills, if you know what I mean. I had confidence in Kate Smith. She was strong. She was confident. She was powerful. Best of all, she was always there for me when I came home from school. I couldn’t wait to see her.
When she sang, her voice filled more than the living room. Her voice filled my heart. With Kate Smith singing and smiling and talking—often in words I didn’t understand–I was not alone. (…Neither was my dog. He enjoyed Kate Smith right along with me.)
Between the time I arrived to find my dog’s tail wagging for me and the time that my father arrived home from work asking how my school day went, Kate Smith was the adult I counted on. Day after day for a couple of years, Kate Smith was there for me.
All these decades later, I can still imagine her voice singing “God Bless America” and my other favorite, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” …An only child, I felt alone all the time—except when Kate Smith sang that song to me.
In preparing for this blog, I treated myself to listening to her voice, digitized for the Internet, singing those two songs she sang to me after school, compliments of her television show. All these years later, now a grandmother myself, hearing Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” still gives me chills. Her singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” still gives me confidence.
I listened, too, to her amazing rendition of “Climb Every Mountain,” which speaks to me now in retirement. I will do what she so resolutely sings. I will “follow every rainbow” until I find my dreams (e.g. from the last post, to quote Joyce Rupp’s mother: I will “Fly while [I] still have wings.”)
Today is Grandparents Day. I wish Kate Smith were still alive so I could tell her how much her person—her goodness, her talent, her twinkling eyes and generous smile—made one all-alone little girl not afraid to come home to an empty apartment, not only because her pet would be wagging his tail to greet her, but because there was a surrogate grandmother to take care of her, an amazing woman who spoke to her in song and conversation.
Thinking about Kate Smith has been an amazing gift today. I’ve read biographical information that, when I was a little girl, had not yet been written, and even the life story that already had been written was not accessible to me. I’ve learned what a truly amazing woman Kate Smith was. How she was honored by Presidents; how her fifty-year singing career earned her many unmatched distinctions.
They say kids and dogs are good judges of character. Everything I needed to know about Kate Smith back then I knew by looking back into her eyes when she looked at me through the little black-and-white television screen.
I love you, Kate Smith. To the world you are the woman who earned many awards and distinctions as a patriot and a singer. To me, you will always be my beloved surrogate grandmother. (Pretty good for a woman with no biological children, don’t you think?)
Has anyone ever served as your surrogate grandparent? …Have you ever found yourself in that sacred position? (Bet you have, even if you don’t know it!)