The generous spirit of Bill O. Smith | Characteristics

Local author and retired school principal (and Santa Claus) launches his latest book
By Brighid Driscoll | 20 November 2021

Traverse City author Bill O. Smith didn’t expect to live with his former mother-in-law as a middle-aged man, but when his health began to decline due to dementia, he has stepped in to take care of her for the past few years. years of his life.

“My own mother had passed away when I was quite young, so I was close to my mother-in-law. My divorce was amicable, I was at an age where I could retire, and she was living in a cottage she liked very much., “he says.

In truth, Smith had not yet planned to retire. He was then an elementary school principal, with about 20 years old – most of them in schools in Suttons Bay and Traverse City, two places he loved. But, he says, he also had no plans to have a mother-in-law who was such a rare person, a woman he describes as “spending the day with calm radiance and without ego.”

“It was Faith, and I loved her,” he said.

As the 85-year-old’s condition worsened, it became increasingly clear that she needed a full-time caregiver. But Faith didn’t want to leave her beloved cabin near North Bar in the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, so Smith offered to help. The family agreed and he retired.

“Some people get a gold watch,” he says. “I have Faith.”

Eventually, a person with dementia loses the ability to speak. As Faith became silent, she spent long periods of her days looking out the window and observing the movements of nature. In particular, she loved to watch the visiting tits.

“When people have dementia, it’s not about their memories anymore. It’s about living in the moment and having moments of positive interaction,” says Smith.

One evening, while he was watching Faith looking at the tits, he saw her eyes follow them as they flew away. And although she couldn’t verbalize him, he suspected that she was wondering the same thing he was: where do tits go at night?

He began to create clever tits rhymes to entertain Faith and create positive moments of interaction between the two.

“The rehearsal is fun; she makes you laugh. She made him laugh, ”says Smith. As his mental library of rhymes and couplets grew, he decided to shape them into something bigger. He created an entire story from these poems, then published it under the title “Chickadees at Night”.

Illustrated by acclaimed northern Michigan artist Charles R. Murphy, the children’s book explores where woodland birds go at night. Faith was not the only one to rejoice in the fanciful words about the mystery of the nocturnal habits of her beloved birds; children and parents too.

So Smith began to explore the little animated birds more, writing a second book, “The Chickadee Spirit”, which explores the community and forest fun of the chickadee world. He followed that up with “Chickadeeland,” an environment-focused tale with a message, and then “Four am December 25th,” a Christmas-themed book for which he donated all profits to charitable organizations. worthy veterans.

This year, Smith returned to where he started: Faith’s beloved tits. In his latest book, “Chickadees in December”, however, Smith drew inspiration from his own experience with other little creatures.

For nearly 10 years, Smith was the Santa Claus of downtown Traverse City.

“They had the parade with Santa Claus entering on a [fire truck]. I was always presented with the key to the city and that sort of thing, ”he says.

Eventually, a little North Pole cottage appeared downtown the day after Thanksgiving – usually at the corner of State and Cass streets, and the kids were telling Smith… uh, Santa what they wanted. These exchanges ignited Smith’s imagination.

“I was telling them things about what was going on at the North Pole – there’s a truck stuck in the cane forest, that sort of thing. I was talking on the phone with Mrs. Claus, looking at the mayor and saying ‘Really? The elves work 25 hours a day! ‘”

Like the wide-eyed silence of his stepmother at the start of the tits and the laughter at Smith’s rhyming explanations about it, the kids loved the information “Santa” shared about what was happening at the North Pole.

Smith turned those ideas into the story of “hard and tender, smart and daring, never afraid of the cold,” who, of course, arrive just in time to help save Christmas.

Like every one of Smith’s books, all proceeds from “Chickadees at Night” are donated. The recipients, according to Smith, are all organizations he thinks Faith would support – among them Historic Sleeping Bear Preservation, Wings of Wonder, Father Fred Foundation, Salvation Army, and Traverse City’s VFW Post 2790.

The origins and results of Smith’s books may appear to be the gifts he created to benefit Faith, the children, and her local community, but deep down, each one seems to be just as much of a gift to the author himself.

Like Smith said Nord-Express, “When the inevitable happens – when you or someone you love has serious health problems – I hope you don’t spend too much time focusing on the past, on what is lost.

“The way to stay young is to look for the possibilities that are available to us. Plan beautiful moments, enjoy bursts of joy, discover a new sense of purpose. Surprising new worlds exist, perhaps as close as a garden bird feeder, or a loved one in need of a helping hand.

You can find Bill O. Smith’s books at, at Up North bookstores and, of course, at your local library.

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