By Louisa Finn, fourth generation Smiley family member
Episode #4: Passing the Baton
2021 will be forever etched in my mind, not only because of our country’s climb out of COVID, but because it is the year my mother, Patricia Smiley Guralnik, and her big brother, Lucius Gerow Smiley, died within one week of each other. Though 15 years separated them, they chose the same exit time in late January; mom in a sweet yellow room at my home at the foot of Mohonk Mountain, and Gerow aged 98 in his longtime apartment in Redlands, CA, the Smiley’s other home.
There went a living legend and his adoring little sister, and there went Smiley Generation 3, leaving us members of Generation 4 faced with the keening awareness of mortality, as well as the responsibility of shouldering their loads, wearing their shoes if they fit, and heeding their voices. Ex-poet laureate and Native American Joy Harjo said, “Every generation is a kind of person.” There’s a basic ground from which they spring. Though the personal differences abound, perhaps their collective message can be discerned as though from one voice.
As a little girl, I thought of my uncle Gerow as a cowboy. This was confirmed by a trip I made at 11 years old to stay with him in California, where he worked as a large animal veterinarian. On that trip I went with Gerow on his vet visits, which included watching him give 100 cows pregnancy tests. He took me canoeing down the Russian River. His was a world of physicality, unlike the world of my parents. Born into “the greatest generation,”Gerow had a can-do confidence, a sense of entitlement and power, a clear-thinking optimism, and a certainty about how he saw things. Though Gerow stepped in and out of involvement at Mohonk over the years, his persona made his impact on Mohonk bigger than life, from his willingness to fix anything he found broken, to his care and knowledge about every aspect of the land, to his strong opinions about how everything should be done.
My mother was opposite. Born when her mother (Rachel Orcutt, aka Mrs. Francis Smiley) was 41, Mom was fond of labeling herself “a mistake.” She felt confined by the expectations placed on her growing up at Mohonk, and longed to escape. She felt “lesser than” her entire life, as though she never measured up. In spite of that feeling, Mom prevailed, serving as a Mohonk Trustee for many years, and continuing to manage the Festival of the Arts (started by my dad in the late 1980s). She was a much-loved member of the family, and known for her offbeat wild-card nature and fondness for cocktails and gambling.
SMILEY GENERATION 3
The Smiley family is famously known for a strong introverted streak. But if there were extroverts in Generation 3, they were in the Francis Gerow line (my grandfather). Rachel (Rachie) Matteson served as social hostess for decades, remembering details about guest’s names, families and past-times from year to year. The art of social conversation was hers. Likewise for her younger siblings. Many were drawn to Gerow’s charismatic straight-shooting curiosity which he leveled at everyone, from employees to presidents; and to Mom’s funny outspoken vulnerability. Both were open and accessible, inviting people into relationship. Gerow would hold court in Office 7 on the Ground floor of the hotel, or on the porch at the Laurels (Smiley family home), and Mom could be found often in the Carriage Lounge, or in her later days in local eateries where she would talk to anyone, particularly those with life challenges for whom she had ultimate compassion.
There is an ecological tenet which states “diversity leads to stability”. It’s true for soil; the more active the life forms, the more vital the dirt. It’s true for gardens and forests as well—the diversity of species making the system function more efficiently, with less energy needed from the outside. If this tenet is applied to Smiley Generation 3, the children of Francis Gerow and Rachel, and Albert II and Mable (the two couples of Generation 2 who remained at Mohonk for their whole lives), a clear diversity is revealed.
Though they were each complex people, describing each one’s strengths or passions with one brush stroke might look like this:
Daniel (1907-1989) – Naturalist/Environmentalist
Albert Keith III (1910-2001) – Quaker Ideals/World Peace Advocate/Writer
Anna (1914-2001) – Pitching in wherever needed
Rachel (1920-2010) – Social hostess/Interior and garden Design
Gerow (1922-2021) – Land Stewardship/Systems management
Francis (1925-2010) – Reverence
Patricia (1936-2021) – Music/arts/ Entertainment
What a diverse garden Generation 3 has planted for us! I’d particularly like to highlight those family members in this list that did not have as clear a role at Mohonk—both Anna, who left fairly early for a life in California, and Francis (Franny), who lived in Mexico for much of his adult life. Anna, as a young woman, “pitched in wherever needed” at the hotel. This included secretarial duties, as well as unusual tasks such as tending to an outbreak of cluster flies and adjusting all the clocks in the hotel to align. Fitting in where needed is, in my experience, often a role that young women in particular find themselves in, and though modest sounding, it is a role that requires a strong ego, great flexibility, and frequently “holds the space” for business to proceed. Franny was known to the family as “a sensitive soul,” so much so that his Cousin Alice made a special effort to look out for him, seeing that he needed extra tending to. Being in his presence one was struck by the special quality of a person who is tuned in on a different level to life; a kind of reverence. I venture that sensitive souls exist in all families, and in many cases, help the family to access its collective heart.
I truly enjoy noticing that these qualities (and others) continue to run, more or less, through the ongoing Smiley generations, and likely will in those who haven’t shown up yet. Given this natural diversity, this stability in the system, I offer this remembrance in appreciation. It serves as a reminder to ourselves to continue to cultivate and include the diverse voices that grow naturally in our Smiley family business as we evolve, in the name of health, vibrancy, and long-lastingness.
Louisa Finn is a fourth generation Smiley family member. She is Secretary for Mohonk Consultations, Speech/Language Therapist, and poet. Her mother, Patricia Smiley Guralnik, directed the Festival of the Arts at Mohonk following the death of her husband, pianist Robert Guralnik. As a child, Louisa spent many days visiting her grandmother, Rachel Orcutt Smiley, who, in her later years, lived in Mohonk’s tower room 271. Currently, Louisa enjoys spending time in the Mohonk Archives, and reading the letters of her ancestors. Their words help to confirm her strong sense of the value of place, and inspire her to share the way past voices can instruct the present, and the future.