Mrs. Goldsmith was in her late 30’s when I first met her at my middle school. She had an older daughter that was 1 year ahead of me and Mrs. Goldsmith volunteered quite a bit at the school. As a 7th grade school boy I was struck by her grace and also her sternness. Whether it was in the lunch line or the playground, Mrs. Goldsmith didn’t tolerate misbehavior and made a point of telling you. For someone who found their fair share of trouble I had many interactions with Mrs. Goldsmith and thought I should introduce my mother to her, not exactly sure what I expected to happen, but thinking there would be some common ground our families could explore. Her daughter, Melissa, and I made the introductions one day after school and our parents became fast friends, enjoying dinners out with “just the adults” and hosting dinners for each other and wine tastings and the like. I think within a year our parents took a trip to Las Vegas together and our fathers started to explore common business interests and my father sold a lot of jewelry to Mrs. Goldsmith. She loved jewelry and fine art. Nonetheless, Mrs. Goldsmith remained very strict with me, perhaps more so than with my sister, being mindful to tell me to keep my hands of the walls and sit properly on the furniture and not eat with my hands and all the rest. Still, I appreciated she took notice and felt she was being appropriate reminding me to mind my manners.
As I entered high school, Mrs. Goldsmith would still volunteer but much less so, Melissa and I would walk home from school rather than her mother picking her up and our parents did not go out as much. By this point, Harriett, as I only called her when she wasn’t around, began to get fatigued very easily and apparently had generalized weakness. Initially it was thought she might have multiple sclerosis or perhaps another neurodegenerative disease. After visits to Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, the diagnosis was clear. Harriett had metastatic breast cancer. She had no screening mammograms and attributed her symptoms to excessive activity. I don’t recall much immediately after the diagnosis. She seemed to entertain and travel less and she didn’t volunteer as much at the school as she used to. Then there was a period of time when all this changed again and she was seen out in the community, full of grace, and sternness with the boys who weren’t acting appropriately. You could tell in my interactions with Melissa that the illness was tough on the family but they were trying to shed a positive light on the matter and be strong and she spent many hours after school helping her mother around the house and tend to their gardens and landscaping. Our family would still visit with theirs but the interactions were much less frequent and shorter. Marathon sessions of Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly with the adults and children no longer existed. Harriett often went to bed much earlier rather than enjoying wine and friends late into the evening. Whatever business interests our fathers may have had were replaced largely by Mr. Goldsmith caring for Harriett.
Before Melissa finished high school, Harriett passed away. It will be 30 years ago next month. She died as she lived, full of grace, donating large portions of her estate through auction to benefit others through various charities, although I am not sure that any were associated with pink ribbons or races or walks. Melissa would go onto college and professional school and Mr. Goldsmith would move from Chicago shortly thereafter. And I still run my hands along the walls, thinking about Harriett along the way.