An Excerpt from Symon’s Daughter: A Memoir of Elizabeth Symon Smith
Copyright © 2001 Don Ian Smith. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
So my children will know something about my early life and background, I was born in Perth, Scotland, March 20, 1887 . . .
The frustrated little girl grabbed the iron bars of the gate and angrily yanked on them, wishing she could rip them apart. They stood for all the things that limited her life. Longingly she watched the rowdy children playing in the street and listened with envy to their laughter and shouting. She yearned to be one of them. They were playing a running and dodging game, and she loved to run and dodge. She was small for her eight years, having recovered from a serious bone infection. It had started when she was a little past three and lasted for almost a year. Her right foot and lower leg had given her weeks and months of pain. The best available doctors from Perth and Edinburgh had studied it. In an effort to stop the infection they had, from time to time, scraped the bone. For several days after each of these treatments the pain had been intense. But now this nightmare of misery lay behind her. She had made a remarkable recovery — some members of her father’s congregation called it “miraculous.” Now she had only a slight limp, one that didn’t show at all when she was running, a limp she was determined to overcome.
Though it had been a long time ago, she would never forget the night she heard her parents talking. Her mother had been sitting at her bedside reading to her. Liz, as she was affectionately called by the family, was tired and had closed her eyes. It was well past her regular bedtime. Assuming she was asleep, Mother gently tucked the blanket around her shoulders, quietly turned off the light, and left the room. Liz found it easier to continue as though she were asleep than to open her eyes and bid Mother good night.
She was almost asleep when the sound of Father’s footsteps in the hall just outside her room roused her a bit. The door was slightly ajar, the way she liked them to keep it while she slept. She heard their quiet greeting and Mother’s soft words. “She’s sleepin’ now, John. She loves it when you’re home in time to kiss her good night and have a wee prayer together, but it’s late. We’d best let her sleep. She surely needs all the rest she can get.”
“You’re right,” he said.
Liz was quite sure her parents had embraced and kissed each other, something they did only when confident that they were completely alone.
“I’m sorry to be so late, Libby. My last call was at the McMurray home and I spent a good deal of time there. You’ll remember they just lost their precious little Jamie. Only three years old he was. We prayed and read scriptures. I tried to bring a bit of comfort.”
Liz could hear the fatigue and sorrow in Father’s voice. She remembered little Jamie and pictured him sitting in church with his father, mother, brothers and sisters.
Father continued speaking softly to Mother. “After leaving the McMurray’s house, I was thinking of our own precious little Liz and stopped to see Dr. Foster.” He paused, and when he spoke his voice had roughened. “He’s had another consultation with the specialist from Edinburgh. They say she will never run and play like a normal child. We’ll have to let the doctors remove the lower leg.”
This jerked Liz wide awake. “He assured me it is the only way he can keep the infection from spreading. It’s our only hope of saving her life.”
Terrified, Liz shivered. Then, with a thrill of hope she heard the defiant tone in Mother’s voice, the anger and determination of a mother cat standing between her kitten and a mean dog. “John, we will not permit those incompetent doctors to take our daughter’s foot! And she will live! She must live! But I did not birth her to be a cripple!”
All her life Liz would remember those exact words. She would tell them to her children. She would reflect that stubbornness and lack of trust in the competence of doctors when she was raising her own children. At times in the years that lay ahead she would find herself facing what seemed like impossible odds, and she would fit exactly that image of a determined mother.
Symon’s Daughter: A Memoir of Elizabeth Symon Smith
by Don Ian Smith
427 pages; trade paper; maps and photos