The Importance of Smiles | A True Story

by Elouise

Nancy Hanks on city street tracks

Nancy Hanks II on city street tracks, somewhere in the state of Georgia, USA

This is one of my favorite memories about Mom. It’s in two parts. Both took place in Savannah, Georgia during the mid-1950s. I was a young teenager, happily aware of boys by now. I thought I knew my mother well. She was frugal, modest and unassuming in her dress. Yet she could light up a roomful of people with her extroverted personality.

Part One – as witnessed by me
For Christmas that year, one of Mom’s favorite lady friends gave her an unusual and even shocking Christmas gift, all expenses paid. It was a shopping day in Atlanta, Georgia, 300 miles from Savannah! The kind of thing only really rich people did.

Mom hesitated. What would people think? Her friend insisted. She was a generous woman, unassuming and quiet, yet determined. Mom consented, though with a bit of trepidation.

When the magical day arrived they left on the Nancy Hanks train early in the morning, ate lunch, shopped, and returned in the evening laden with boxes full of purchases. All expenses paid by Mom’s friend.

Though there were small gifts for each of us girls, I don’t remember any of them. That’s because they paled in comparison to the gift Mom had chosen for herself—at her friend’s insistence.

Mom didn’t just open the box and show us her gift. She went into her bedroom and then walked out into the living room, all smiles, modeling her brand new, full length bright red winter coat!

She paraded in front of us, swirled around, and enjoyed our shock and awe at this unbelievable sight! It wasn’t just warm, it was gorgeous, and she looked gorgeous in it! My father raised his eyebrows a bit at this display. But how can you throw cold water on happiness like this? Or disapprove of the gift itself?

Part Two – as reported by Mom
A few weeks later Mom was out for an evening meeting in the city. Clad, of course, in her brand new bright red winter coat. On her way home she stopped at a gas station, rolled down the window and asked the friendly, good-looking and youngish gas station attendant to fill up the gas tank.

He smiled at her and said he would be happy to oblige! Then, after the tank was full, he washed the car windows extra carefully and smiled at her again through the windows. Still happy to oblige.

And did she want him to check the oil? Oh yes, that would be good. So he did. And smiled again.

She handed cash to the friendly young man, smiled, and thanked him kindly for checking the oil and washing the car windows.

In a few minutes the friendly young man returned with her change, still smiling. Then he leaned down, looked into the car window, smiled yet again and complimented her on her red coat! He said it was very becoming on her. I’m sure Mom smiled gratefully.

Then he leaned his arm on the window sill and asked whether she would be coming back to the station anytime soon. She smiled, said she didn’t know, and that right now she had to hurry home to her four daughters and her husband! She smiled yet again, rolled up the window and drove away.

Did his face fall? (We all wanted to know!) She didn’t know, she said with a smile, because she was on her way home to her four daughters and her husband!

The End.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 December 2015
Photo of Nancy Hanks II from